green building

Leading Cultural and Sustainable Building

I first heard about Paula Allen and the Potawot Health Village in 2008, during a Regional Tribal Operations Committee meeting on green buildings. Paula’s name came up when people began discussing cultural values and a “sense of place” as a guide for sustainable building and land use practices.

These are certainly not new ideas in Indian Country.  However, the notion of local, cultural knowledge is not a major focus of today’s green building movement, so I was curious to learn more about Paula.  From what I’ve learned, she is truly deserving of her recognition as an EPA Southwest Pacific Region Environmental Award winner.

Paula is the traditional resource specialist for United Indian Health Services, Inc (UIHS),  a private, Indian owned, non-profit organization that provides out-patient health care for 15,000 Native Americans and their families in Arcata, CA.

The Potawot Health Village was completed in 2001. Paula ensured that the building and site reflected the cultural values of the local Native communities.  Potawot is located near several historic tribal villages that had been used for hunting, fishing and gathering traditional foods and medicines.  As Paula says, “Not understanding our history or being in connection with our spirituality is where a lot of our sickness comes from. It is rooted in those things.”

The design of Potawot also embodies the culture and values of the communities it serves.  From the outside, the facility looks like the traditional redwood plank houses of coastal tribes. Reclaimed redwood was creatively used on interior walls and regional native art and basketry are featured throughout the building. Restored wetlands and native grasses now grow on the site, along with gardens that provide traditional foods and medicinal herbs.

Stormwater from rooftops and parking surfaces serve as a supplemental water source for the project’s wetlands. Potawot planned their building locations to support and facilitate an optimal array of solar panels. The ultimate goal is to have the entire energy demand supplied by solar energy. The current size of the solar energy system is 42 Kilowatts and the current savings is allocated towards community outreach and educational programs.

Paula’s work is truly a unique and inspiring example of how traditional Native American culture and values can inform sustainable building design and land use decisions.  Her commitment to cultural values and wisdom, and her own sense of place have inspired many people – including me – to recognize cultural knowledge as an invaluable sustainable design resource.

About the Author: Michelle Baker works as the Tribal Green Building Coordinator in EPA’s Pacific Southwest Office. She works with the Tribal Solid Waste Team in the Office of Pollution Prevention and Solid Waste. Michelle primarily works with tribes in northern California on waste and materials management issues.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Greening History

I’ve been excited lately to see two of my passions – green building and American history – coming together. Several of our nation’s major historical sites are starting to incorporate green techniques in their visitors’ centers and sometimes even in their historic restorations. Such meaningful bridges between past and future are being built at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s architectural masterpiece in central Virginia, and at President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldier’s Home, a newly restored site in Washington, DC.

The caretakers of Monticello made the wise move of honoring the cutting-edge architect of the 18th century with the cutting edge architectural development of our time. As Daniel P. Jordan, president of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation put it: “Sustainable design is a Jeffersonian concept.” Indeed – it’s based on a lot of concepts that just make sense – saving energy, water and materials; building healthy spaces; reducing the pollution and environmental impact of how we build and live.

The green features of the newly-built Thomas Jefferson Visitor Center and Smith Education Center include:

  • a geothermal heating and cooling system, which uses the relatively stable temperature of the ground to provide more efficient heating and cooling;
  • two “green” or vegetated roofs, a more natural solution to help insulate roofs, and reduce stormwater runoff and the “heat island” effect;
  • recycling nearly four-fifths of the project’s construction debris; and
  • a variety of water conservation and stormwater runoff reduction techniques.

At the Lincoln Cottage, the National Trust for Historic Preservation successfully pulled off an even more amazing feat, greening a 104-year-old historic building! The Robert H. Smith Visitor Education Center was the first National Trust Historic site structure to qualify for the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standard. Helped by a $1 million grant from United Technologies Corporation, this building’s green features include:

  • a computerized building management system that adjusts the mechanical systems based on occupancy and climatic conditions;
  • green cleaning and housekeeping practices; and
  • an energy recovery unit, which recaptures energy in exhaust air to pre-condition incoming air, thereby increasing ventilation without using more energy.

It’s important to view history not as dead and gone, but as something we participate in every day and continue to shape. That’s precisely what happening at these historical sites, where we honor great leaders of the past while doing a favor to the future too.

There’s more information available on Monticello’s green visitor’s center and on the Lincoln Cottage.

About the author: Ken Sandler is Co-Chair of EPA’s Green Building Workgroup. He has worked for EPA since 1991 on sustainability issues including green building, recycling and indoor air quality.

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Pharos Project Recognized for Taking Green Labeling to New Heights

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I’m always on the lookout for healthy and green products, but it’s tough to get unbiased information on a product’s real impacts. Now that green is hot, greenwashing – the deceptive use of green marketing – is definitely on the rise.

EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region selected the Pharos Project from the Healthy Building Network as an environmental award winner.  Their mission is to transform the market for building materials – more than three billion tons per year – to advance best environmental, health and social practices. In 2008, Pharos — a revolutionary on-line tool for evaluating and comparing the impacts of building materials in a comprehensive and transparent way — was developed.

The Pharos Project is re-defining green labeling practices to develop a consumer-driven vision of truly green materials using a 16-attribute visual lens and label. This offers more information than any other green label on the market, including the ability to compare actual ingredients. Together, the lens and label will allow the public and the building community to buy products with the attributes most important to them.

The Healthy Building Network has also worked to –

As I look through the Pharos lens, everything seems important, but I’d have to say that my Pharos-pie-piece priorities are High Hazard Toxics, Indoor Air Quality, Global Warming, Fairness and Equity, Habitat, and Renewable Materials.
What are yours?

About the author: Timonie Hood has worked on EPA Region 9’s Resource Conservation Team for 10 years and is Co-Chair of EPA’s Green Building Workgroup.

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Building Green and Affordable Homes

Hurricane season started on June 1 and I thought it would be interesting to see how at least one non-profit organization is incorporating energy efficiency and green design as it re-builds a neighborhood in New Orleans, almost 4 years after Hurricane Katrina.

Jericho Road Housing Initiative was founded with support from the Episcopal Relief and Development organization and is a neighborhood-based non-profit home builder of healthy and energy efficient housing. One of the fundamental missions of Jericho Road is not only to replace housing units lost during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, but to build a neighborhood in the Central City area of New Orleans. The organization is working with 56 lots in the vicinity of the Saratoga Street Brownfield site. To date, 21 homes have been sold and another 20 have been constructed or are under construction.

Located almost at the center of the neighborhood is the Saratoga Street Brownfield site, once a municipal hazardous waste incinerator. Working with community members, local landscape architects and Jericho Road staff plan to convert the vacant land into a community park. In addition to ridding the area of an environmental and aesthetic eyesore, the new park will provide residents and families with a healthy outdoor area for exercise and enjoyment.

There have been 3 design criteria that have guided the design and construction of the homes. First, Jericho Road has used traditional architectural designs found in the neighborhood. To folks that grew up in south Louisiana, these homes are referred to as “shotgun” houses and include tall ceilings, deep front porches and unique structural details. Next, the homes incorporate the concept of universal design so that residents of differing physical abilities can move easily throughout the home, including doorways and hall widths that accommodate wheelchair use. The third design criterion is to build green and energy efficient.

Brad Powers, Jericho Road’s executive director, recently outlined the group’s energy efficiency emphasis in the organization’s newsletter. “Green building is not a luxury – it is part and parcel with our commitment to providing families with not just a house but a home. Long-term housing affordability and energy efficiency are interconnected and must be acknowledged by all that provide or help fund homes. This is especially true for low income families.”

About the author: Rob Lawrence joined EPA in 1990 and is Senior Policy Advisor on Energy Issues in the Dallas, TX regional office. As an economist, he works to insure that both supply and demand components are addressed as the Region develops its Clean Energy and Climate Change Strategy.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Moscone Center – A Bright Green Award-Winning Convention Center

I’ve been to a lot of “environmental” conferences over the years, and I’ve seen a lot of not-so-environmental practices. Some convention centers even throw away the floor coverings they use after every trade show. SMG’s giant Moscone Center, in San Francisco, is just one block away from my office, and this bright green convention center was recognized at EPA’s recent Pacific Southwest Environmental Awards Ceremony.

Image of solar panels on the Moscone Center The two million square foot Moscone Center has one of the nation’s largest municipally-owned solar installations. Their 60,000 sq. ft. solar system generates enough energy to power nearly 400 homes and displaces more than 300 tons of carbon dioxide annually! They also did a major lighting retrofit. You can follow their lead by looking for ENERGY STAR lighting fixtures at home and at work.

SMG pioneered a recycling program at the Moscone Center ten years ago and recently added food composting. They now transform kitchen-based food scraps and corn-based serveware and utensils from large catered functions into compost to grow new food. The catering truck is even fueled with biodiesel. SMG also reduces waste by working with vendors to take back bread trays and pastry boxes.
The facility started using Green Seal certified cleaning products in 2008 and buys environmental products like post-consumer recycled paper, janitorial supplies and garbage bags.

SMG really focuses on improving indoor air quality. The Moscone Center takes the following step to achieve this:

  • Has a full-time air quality technician who regularly monitors and tests conditions ;
  • Requires forklifts to use a propane additive to reduce carbon monoxide emissions ;
  • Reduces diesel emissions by requiring trucks operated by service contractors to use filters;
  • Minimizes idling by drivers, and
  • Strictly enforces the no smoking ordinance.

They’re also improving air quality outside. The Moscone Center is close to nearly 20,000 hotel rooms, making it easy to avoid driving. SMG also promotes the use of public transit in telephone recordings and on the website, as well as encouraging employee participation in the Commuter Check program. The center’s van runs on compressed natural gas and bike racks are installed in front of the facility.

The list of green features at Moscone Center goes on and on, but you get the idea — Moscone Center is truly a model green convention center!

Please share your green conference and convention center information with us.

To learn more about other U.S. EPA Pacific Southwest Environmental Award winners, visit http://www.epa.gov/region09/awards.

About the author: Timonie Hood has worked on EPA Region 9’s Resource Conservation Team for 10 years and is Co-Chair of EPA’s Green Building Workgroup.
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Science Wednesday: Environmental Protection and the Green Economy

Go to EPA's Science Month pageAbout the author: Diana Bauer, Ph.D. is an environmental engineer in EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research where she serves as the Sustainability Team Leader.

I have been pleased in the past several months to see the “Green Economy” emerge as a priority for the nation. As an engineer who has been engaged in environmental research, I am particularly excited about new roles for engineering and new opportunities to avoid environmental problems through better design.

When I was in my first job as a mechanical engineer a couple of decades ago, I was dismayed when my colleagues and managers told me that I shouldn’t concern myself with where or how my work was used. My job as an engineer was to solve challenging technical problems. Others had the responsibility of worrying about the broader context, including what technology we should be investing in and how the technology would interact with people and the environment.

Later on, working at EPA and elsewhere, I have met many environmental professionals who were skeptical that engineers could have much impact for preventing or avoiding environmental problems, precisely because of engineers’ narrow focus.

In the years since that first job, I have enjoyed watching and contributing to fields such as Green Engineering, Green Chemistry, and Sustainable Engineering as they emerged and began to mature. These fields will be required as the nation addresses climate change through green energy and invests in transportation, and water infrastructure.

To contribute fully to the new green economy, engineers need to understand the environmental and social implications of their work.

National investments present an opportunity for EPA to collaborate with other departments and agencies across the government to ensure that holistic, multimedia environmental considerations are integrated into the development of green energy technologies, transportation, water infrastructure, and green building. Efforts such as these may reduce the future environmental issues that EPA will have to address with regulation.

One area where cross-government collaboration is already occurring is in Green Building. Commercial and residential buildings currently account for about 40% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from electricity and heating. The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is coordinating across the federal government the Net-Zero Energy, High Performance Green Buildings Research and Development Plan to dramatically reduce energy consumption in buildings. The plan holistically addresses the challenge by focusing on water efficiency, storm water management, sustainable materials management, and indoor environmental quality.

Cross-cutting agendas such as this one can help engineers of my generation and those following to broaden our perspective and learn how to build a green economy while protecting the air, water, and land.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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EPA’s Green Symphony

About the author: Ken Sandler is Co-Chair of EPA’s Green Building Workgroup. He has worked for EPA since 1991 on sustainability issues including green building, recycling and indoor air quality.

Lots of people complain about government, and often for good reason. But few really dig deep to find the core problems with bureaucracies, and how to fix them.

Bureaucratic systems aim to solve problems by dividing these problems into steadily smaller pieces. This works, up to a point. The problem is that somebody has to make sure that all those individual instruments, while they’re playing their own pieces, also fit well into a broader symphony.

Here at EPA, we divide up problems at the broadest level into the issues of air, water, land & materials, and toxics & prevention. We then break them down into even finer levels of detail. This allows us to devote greater scrutiny to a whole host of issues, but the challenge is to ensure that, in the process, we don’t lose the big picture.

EPA’s Green Building Workgroup is one of our efforts to ensure that we’re all playing from the same sheet of music. Our agency has a lot of strong programs to deal with specific buildings issues, like Energy Star, WaterSense, Indoor Environments and Industrial Material Recycling. But a building is a whole system and if you only focus on one aspect of it, you may lose other opportunities or cause more problems. In the 1970s, when we started tightening buildings for energy efficiency, some of them starting having indoor air quality problems due to inadequate ventilation. We’ve since learned how to build and operate buildings that are both energy efficient and healthy.

Similarly, when we’re looking at buildings’ energy profiles, we need to take into account not only the energy used to power them, but also the energy used to manufacture building products, bring water to buildings, and convey and treat wastewater from them. Not to mention the energy we use to commute to and from buildings – which gets to an even larger issue, that buildings themselves are part of our development patterns – neighborhoods, towns, metropolitan areas. Here we get into the purview of another EPA program, Smart Growth, which focuses on how to design and manage communities that enhance the quality of life, health and nature.

These are all important programs, and the Green Building Workgroup works to coordinate them so that they all make great green music together. Please help us stay in tune by letting us know what EPA green building resources you would find most helpful.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Green Building Blog: The Green Way Out?

About the author: Ken Sandler is Co-Chair of EPA’s Green Building Workgroup.  He has worked for EPA since 1991 on sustainability issues including green building, recycling and indoor air quality. 

Downturn. Recession. Even putting aside the practical implications of these terms, the very words are depressing.

So it was uplifting for me to spend a recent week in Boston at the largest green building conference, Greenbuild. Large as in 30,000 people in attendance. As Michelle Moore, the US Green Building Council’s Senior Vice President for Policy and Public Affairs pointed out, it was more than the population of the entire county where she grew up.

And an especially surprising number when you consider that the building sector is among the hardest hit industries in our current economic crisis. Yet as a developer that I spoke with at the conference noted, financiers are now actually beginning to favor green building projects as a better bet – as opposed to just an extravagant cost center. It makes sense, since as conference speaker Van Jones of the organization Green for All noted, green is what your grandma used to call “Don’t be a fool!” It’s about common sense – don’t foul your own nest, don’t waste water or materials or energy (including free energy, like sunlight and wind) – or money, to which all these other resources ultimately equate.

Green as the favored approach to building is new, and it was also the theme of the conference – green building not as a boutique trend anymore, but as a solution. Green building creating jobs, as a stimulus that can create value not only for the economy but also for the long term health of both people and the planet. It’s the kind of solution that allows us to explore the hard-to-define concept of sustainability. Sustainability requires looking beyond the bounds of categories like economics, environment and society, to find the largest long-term context that makes sense across all these categories.

And it’s a ray of hope to keep your eye on amidst all the current economic gloom. Which in itself is worth a lot.

For more information about Green Jobs, see the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ report, “Current and Potential Green Jobs in the U.S. Economy” at http://www.usmayors.org/pressreleases/uploads/GreenJobsReport.pdf

 

 

 

 

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Greening the Dragon

About the author: Ken Sandler is Co-Chair of EPA’s Green Building Workgroup. He has worked for EPA since 1991 on sustainability issues including green building, recycling and indoor air quality.

This past summer, the world’s eyes turned to Beijing to watch the Olympics. With that attention came more scrutiny to the many environmental issues resulting from China’s long economic boom.

Two facts demonstrate the mix of hope and challenge that China represents for our future. First, carbon dioxide emissions (the greatest contributor to climate change) are growing rapidly in China, to the point that some estimate China has already surpassed the U.S. as the world’s leading emitter. Yet China also is projected to have surpassed the rest of the world as the leading producer of clean, renewable energy – including wind, solar and hydropower (according to the Renewables 2007 report sponsored by Germany).

I had the privilege of visiting this remarkable country this past April, as part of an EPA delegation meeting the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) in Beijing. On this trip, I got to meet people who are working to make green building a reality in China, from the government, major universities (Tsinghua, Shanghai Research Institute of Building Sciences, Huazhong University of Science and Technology) and even a government-supported non-profit (Administrative Center for China’s Agenda 21).

While there are vast differences between the situations of our two countries – chief among them the major environmental crises facing China and the disparity between our governmental systems – I was struck by a few of the similarities. There, as here, the status quo too often prevails against the wisdom of making our buildings more efficient in their use of energy, water and materials, and healthier to live in and around. There, as here, progress often hinges on the initiative of a few heroic individuals willing to stick their necks out to try something new and innovative.

I got to meet several such individuals on my trip, working on such projects as the Eco-House that will be showcased at the Shanghai World Expo in 2010. They were eager to learn more about EPA programs like Brownfields and ENERGY STAR, and about the progress Americans have made in establishing green building as a major trend in the U.S.

In the Olympic spirit, I’d like to see the US engage in strenuous but healthy competition with China, to see which of our countries can move faster toward discovering and applying the greenest technologies – in our buildings, vehicles, factories and more. Call it the race for the Green Medal – and let the games begin!

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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….And I’ll huff and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow this house down…

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Lea la versión en español a continuación de esta entrada en inglés.
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We are fast approaching the end of hurricane season 2008. With the exception of hurricane Ike, the US territories and mainland have been largely spared the ravages of storms past. However, hurricane season got me to thinking, how can we develop construction materials that are sustainable while, at the same time, they will withstand hurricane force winds and rains of the likes of Ike, Katrina, Georges, and Andrew, to name a few?

I think the Agency has made great strides in supporting technological advances in green building, enhancing energy and water efficiency. However, I wonder how we can take those green benefits to areas that are more susceptible to nature’s onslaught during hurricane season?

For example, in Jeffrey’s blog from Hawaii, he noted how little air conditioning was used in many of the homes. However, the Hawaiian Islands are not in the paths of the storms that come from Africa to the Americas like the Caribbean Islands. We’ve seen Brenda’s efforts to reduce the carbon footprint in Puerto Rico, but I still haven’t seen any green substitute for good old concrete when it comes to withstanding hurricane force winds.

So, I would like to use the Web to start a greenversation. I want to consult with experts in this area. Are there green materials stronger than hay and sticks yet greener than bricks? Let’s find materials that will not allow the bad hurricane wolves to blow our houses down. Looking forward to your comments.

¿Resistiría la embestida?

Sobre la autor: Lina M. F. Younes ha trabajado en la EPA desde el 2002 y está a cargo del Grupo de Trabajo sobre Comunicaciones Multilingües. Como periodista, dirigió la oficina en Washington de dos periódicos puertorriqueños y ha laborado en varias agencias gubernamentales.

Nos estamos acercando rápidamente al final de la temporada de huracanes del 2008. Salvo el huracán Ike, los territorios y continente estadounidenses se libraron de los azotes de tormentas pasadas. Sin embargo, durante esta temporada de huracanes me he puesto a pensar sobre cómo podemos desarrollar materiales de construcción que sean sostenibles y que a la misma vez puedan resistir el impacto de vientos huracanados y lluvias torrenciales como los Ike, Katrina, Georges, y Andrew, del mundo?

Pienso que la Agencia ha logrado grandes avances al apoyar tecnologías en edificios verdes, la eficiencia energética y la conservación de agua. Sin embargo, me pregunto si podemos llevar esos beneficios ambientalistas a las áreas que sean más susceptibles a los ataques de la naturaleza durante la temporada de huracanes?

Por ejemplo, en el blog de Jeffrey desde Hawai, destacó cómo limitaban el uso del aire acondicionado en muchos hogares. Sin embargo, las Islas Hawaianas no se encuentran en el paso de las tormentas que salen de África camino a las Américas como están las islas del Caribe. Vimos los esfuerzos de Brenda por reducir la huella de carbono en Puerto Rico, pero todavía no he visto un buen sustituto verde al consabido concreto cuando se trata de resistir un vendaval huracanado.

Por lo tanto, quisiera usar esta página para comenzar una conversación verde, Greenversation. Quisiera consultar con expertos en esta área. Como en el cuento de los tres cerditos, ¿acaso hay materiales verdes que sean más fuertes que la paja y la leña, pero más verdes que los ladrillos? Encontremos materiales que no permitan que los malos lobos huracanados derriben nuestros hogares. Me encantaría leer sus comentarios.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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