Posts Tagged ‘sustainability’

The Suburbs Are Anything But Family Friendly

Monday, December 6th, 2010

The Suburbs Are Anything But Family FriendlyOne of the biggest albums of the year is “The Suburbs” by the Canadian group, Arcade Fire, which exposes the dark side of urban sprawl.  The band, fronted by the husband and wife duo of Win Butler and Régine Chassagne have created a concept album as emblematic of our generation as The Wall was for the post-Vietnam War boomers.  Try these lyrics from one of their best songs, Sprawl 2:

Cause on the surface the city lights shine
They’re calling at me, come and find your kind
Sometimes I wonder if the world’s so small
That we can never get away from the sprawl

So, why did an indie band from Canada resonate so profoundly with us?  Putting aside the cultural war that’s always waged when you raise the issue of the burbs, we now find lots of evidence that growing up in the suburbs may not be the most advantageous environment for children according to Seattle-based Carla Saulter, writing in Grist magazine.  “We Americans tend to believe that a healthy environment in which to raise children is a large, single-family home in a quiet suburban community,” according to Saulter.  “Many of us are convinced that trading the polluted, crowded city for greener pastures (also known as the large backyards that usually come along with suburban homes) is the right decision for our children.  Unfortunately, the farther we move from urban centers, the more auto-dependent, resource-intensive, and by extension, environmentally detrimental our lives become.  Auto-dependence is bad for our children; it’s also very, very bad for the planet.”

Saulter says that living in a sprawling, auto-centric community where parents have no option but to drive their children to the grocery store or to the local playground is not doing the planet any favors.  “Environmentally responsible parenting is about more than cloth diapers and BPA-free thermoses.  It means drastically reducing the amount we consume and pollute.  It means letting go of the belief that the best way to raise children is in a 2,500 SF, two-car home with a half-acre lawn, and instead embracing a different version of ‘family friendly’, dense, diverse and transit-rich,” Saulter said.

People who live in a dense community typically live in smaller spaces, which require less energy to heat and cool.  These smaller spaces occupy less land, which means there is room for additional homes – and perhaps even forests and farmland.  “As more people are living in close proximity to each other, more resources can be shared,” according to Saulter.  “Neighborhood parks replace large backyards; coffee shops and community centers replace home offices and playrooms; public libraries replace extensive personal libraries; and nearby theaters replace media rooms.  Other resources, like power and sewer lines, can also be delivered more efficiently to densely populated communities.”

According to “The City in 2050:  Creating Blueprints for Change”, a study by the Urban Land Institute, only 25 percent of car rides in the United States have the purpose of commuting to and from work.  The remainder is spent running errands or transporting children to and from school or to activities.  The United States currently boasts a car-ownership rate of approximately 80 cars for every 100 persons; by 2030; that is expected to soar to one car per person.  Additionally, long-term trends predict a 48 percent increase in driving by 2030, though high gas prices might temper that to some extent.

Saulter recommends reading David Owen‘s “Green Metropolis:  Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less are the Keys to Sustainability”.  

Google Partners to Create Mid-Atlantic Offshore Wind Farm Transmission Grid

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Google is expanding into offshore wind farm transmission grid. Google is expanding its horizons by partnering with Good Energies, a New York-based investment firm that specializes in renewable energy, to create a $5 billion, 350-mile-long transmission grid to support offshore wind farms along the Atlantic Seaboard.

Each of the two firms has agreed to take 37.5 percent of the equity portion of the project – named the Atlantic Wind Connection — and are looking for additional investors.  Trans-Elect, a Maryland-based transmission-line company, hopes to begin grid construction as soon as 2013.

“Conceptually, it looks to me to be one of the most interesting transmission projects that I’ve ever seen walk through the door,” according to Jeff Wellinghoff, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which administers interstate electricity transmission.  “It provides a gathering point for offshore wind for multiple projects up and down the coast.”  The proposed grid will have a capacity of 6,000 megawatts, the equivalent of five large nuclear power plants.  The system will be located in shallow trenches on the seabed in federal waters just 15 to 20 miles offshore and stretch from northern New Jersey to Norfolk, VA.  It will harvest power from wind turbines situated where the winds are strong and the towers will be largely out of sight.  Richard L. Needham, director of Google’s green business operations group, described the plan as “innovative and audacious.  It’s an opportunity to kick-start this industry and, long term, provide a way for the mid-Atlantic states to meet their renewable energy goals.”

Trans-Elect says that the first phase – stretching from northern New Jersey, to Rehoboth Beach, DE – could be completed by 2016, with the rest of the system becoming operational in 2021.  Using offshore wind to generate electricity is more expensive than coal, natural gas or onshore wind, though experts predict offshore turbines will be used more frequently to meet state requirements for locally generated renewable energy.  James J. Hoecker, former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, described the Atlantic transmission grid as “a necessary piece of what the Eastern governors have been talking about in terms of taking advantage of offshore wind.”

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley To Receive Legacy Award for His Sustainable City

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley to be honored with legacy award that bears his name. Who is the recipient of the inaugural Mayor Richard M. Daley Legacy Award for Global Leadership in Creating Sustainable Cities?  It’s none other than retiring Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley himself.

Writing in the Chicago Tribune, architecture critic Blair Kamin said “Chicago’s lame-duck mayor, famous for his green thumb and his iron fist, will receive the award at the annual Greenbuild conference in Chicago this November, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) announced.”

The Greenbuild Conference & Expo will be held in Chicago at McCormick Place West November 17 – 19.  Roger Platt, Senior Vice President of Global Policy and Law for the USGBC, said “USGBC is incredibly honored to be part of Mayor Daley’s legacy as a world leader in demonstrating how a nurturing and sustainable city can be the highest service to a community.  This award is in recognition of the Mayor’s visionary and planet-changing leadership that has created the amazing legacy of a green city.  We are looking forward to bringing our Greenbuild conference back to one of the world’s most sustainable cities.”

Chicago holds the honor of being one of the first cities in the United States to adopt LEED certification for its public buildings.  Additionally, the city boasts the largest number of LEED-certified buildings in the nation.  “During Daley’s 21-year reign as mayor, according to city officials, Chicago has planted more than 600,000 trees, constructed more than 85 miles of landscaped medians and built more than seven million SF of planted roofs – more than any other city in America,” Kamin said.

Green Construction Comprises One-Third of All U.S. Projects

Monday, October 4th, 2010

Green buildings now one-third of all construction. Although construction in the United States has been slow since the financial meltdown of 2008, there is one niche segment that is thriving – green construction.  According to McGraw-Hill Construction, green buildings now comprise one-third of all new construction, an increase of two percent over 2005, a surprise in an industry that is historically slow to change.

A case in point is the new Silver LEED-certified Ross School of Business building at the University of Michigan.  The environmentally friendly building incorporates technologies such as dual-flush toilets, which use 0.8 gallons of water instead of 1.6 gallons.  Firm in the knowledge that LEED certification is worth the money, the University of Michigan is now committed to going green on all new construction projects that cost $10 million or more.

Terry Alexander, Executive Director of the university’s Office for Campus Sustainability, notes that the added cost of LEED certification is actually a small percentage.  Because the university already saves energy and water in its new buildings, the extra cost on a $100 million Silver LEED project would be just two percent.  That includes the hard cost of eco-friendly features as well as soft costs for the paperwork required to achieve LEED certification.  Alexander says that Michigan is confident that the LEED plaque sends a message about the university’s environmental priorities and that it increases the school’s prestige with students and employees.

Landmark Study Finds Increased Productivity, Lower Vacancy and Higher Rents in Green Buildings

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

Study concludes that green buildings are healthier for employees.  A new study conducted by the University of San Diego and CB Richard Ellis Group Inc. (CBRE) has found that tenants in green buildings experience fewer sick days and have increased productivity.  Furthermore, researchers determined that green buildings have higher rental rates and lower vacancies.

Overseen by Dr. Norm Miller of the University of San Diego’s Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate, the “Do Green Buildings Make Dollars and Sense?” study took a year to complete and is the largest study of its kind to date.  The research was conducted in collaboration with Dave Pogue, CBRE’s national director of sustainability, and Ray Wong, CBRE’s director of Americas research.

The study determined that tenants in green buildings are more productive based on two measures — the average number of tenant sick days and the self-reported productivity change.  Study respondents reported an average of 2.88 fewer sick days in their current green office compared to their previous non-green office.  The research additionally showed that green buildings have 13 percent higher rental rates and 3.5 percent lower vacancy rates than the market.

Pogue comments, “The results of this project are beginning to demonstrate the very real and positive impact of sustainable buildings for both our owners and tenant occupants.  We have been seeking ways to make an empirical case for the economic benefits of sustainable practices and the results of this study exceeded our expectations.”  For its findings, CBRE and the University of San Diego surveyed more than 150 buildings under CBRE management.  Researchers defined a green building as those with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification at any level or those that bear the EPA ENERGY STAR label.

Lenders Get Green

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008

Marketing green is a new step in the emergence of sustainability.  In a tight credit environment when rates have climbed and LTVs have dropped, green may offer a way to ease the underwriting criteria on a deal.

The green-building revolution is spreading, and the underwriting community has embraced sustainable design because it enhances marketability and income.  To illustrate, net rent in a particular office market may include a $15 psf in base rent and another $8 in common-area costs – the latter driven largely by energy and water-use costs.  It adds up that if you reduce that common-area cost and pass the savings along to the tenant, your building will be more attractive because it operating costs are lower.

Community banks in environmentally conscious markets or in areas where local building requirements foster sustainable projects are offering standard loans with terms favoring green development.  In San Francisco, the New Resource Bank offers qualifying green projects a generous loan-to-value ratio of as much as 80 percent, and a slightly better interest rate than it does to conventional project developers.  Green lenders look for incremental steps such as preferential review, quarter-point interest-rate discounts, longer amortization and relatively small changes in return for LEED or Energy-Star certification.

In Houston, the Green Bank recently moved into a 20,000 SF headquarters specifically designed to earn LEED’s gold certification.  Previously known as the Redstone Bank, it was acquired by a local banker who rebranded it as Green Bank and launched in January of 2007 with a focus on sustainability.  Just 1 ½ years later, Green Bank has $275 million in assets and is creating a group of environmentally conscious companies and individuals.  One vital goal is to educate team members to identify green-oriented customers, whether they are recyclers or LEED-certified construction space users.