Category Archives: Zero emissions

Bill Gates says technology holds the key to energy, climate. What do you think?

When we’re talking about solving big problems there is a division between those who believe new technology will hold the key and those who believe things need to change now, even if we don’t have the perfect tools. That division was highlighted at yesterday’s talk on energy and climate by Bill Gates.

Bill Gates, former Microsoft CEO and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, spoke at Climate Solutions’ annual breakfast May 10. Our story on his talk is here and there are multiple other articles and accounts on the web. Gates basically said what he’s said before: we need major technological breakthroughs to solve climate and energy problems. To do this, he said the government needs to spend more than double the amount it currently does on research and development, and the private markets will follow. By breakthroughs, he means far-out technologies that will create a zero or very low carbon energy source. More money should be spent on renewable energy, carbon sequestration and nuclear energy, he said.

“The thing I think is the most under-invested in is basic R&D,” he said. “That’s something only the government will do. Over the next couple of decades, we have to invent and pilot, and in the decades after that we have to deploy in an unbelievably fast way, these sources.”

But even during the breakfast, this division between work in the future and work now was felt. Dean Allen, CEO of McKinstry, spoke before Gates did. He said technological silver bullets are great but “it’s often not best to wait for superman. It’s sometimes better to figure out how to take practical and profitable real time solutions where we live.”

Allen has a guest post on the Climate Solutions Blog here, if you’re further interested in his ideas. To watch Gates’ TED talk on a similar topic, go here.

Later, in a briefing with journalists, KC Golden, Climate Solutions’ policy director, said he doesn’t think all our problems will be solved by public funding. Public money isn’t a panacea, he said, but it is a critical piece of the solution for the energy sector “because the way the regulated economy works starves the energy sector of R&D money and innovation.”

If we are going to solve the energy and climate problems, what do you think we should be concentrating on – innovation or current work? Of course, the true solution would and most likely will (if we find it) include both. But which area do you think deserves more attention?

Zero waste: betraying our mission?

This is a guest post by Dave Bennink, owner of Re-Use Consulting.

I recently was asked to speak at the California Resource Recovery Association Conference in Palm Springs.  I know, Palm Springs, it sounds like a vacation, but the high for each day was 112 degrees.  Anyway, this year’s theme was ‘zero-waste’.  The CRRA had asked me to discuss building deconstruction in the context of it helping to achieve zero waste goals in many California cities.  It caused me to pause and think about what zero waste means and how to achieve it.  I came up with a couple of interesting points.

Betraying the mission:

Some of the projects that I have been involved with or have read about that have strived for zero-waste or very high diversion rates may have succeeded in doing so, but at what cost?  It may have taken weeks to accomplish and cost much more than demolition.  Therefore, even though the project stands as an example of what is possible, the general public may see this as confirming their belief that building deconstruction (and perhaps other green building methods) cost too much and take too long

Looking at this another way, we see that the single project may divert 70 tons from the landfill during its 3.6 week schedule.  A less agressive approach that we frequently follow would divert 60 tons in 1.2 weeks or 180 tons during the same 3.6 week schedule.  So, in the end, who is closer to zero-waste? 

There are different ways to achieve zero-waste, by achieving zero-waste on one project and building off of that and using it as a bar that others can reach, or to achieve high-diversion on 10 projects at a cost-competitive price and time-sensitive schedule.  In the end, we really do need the zero-waste projects to push us forward, we just need them to admit that we still have a ways to go before achieving zero-waste on a regular basis. 

Designing for disassembly:

When planning our presentation, we reviewed past projects that we had completed and sent the materials in three directions: reuse, recycling and disposal.  Our focus was on how we could have eliminated the disposal category on projects performed in the ‘real world’.  Our conclusion was that if we design waste into a structure, it is not surprising that we get waste out of projects. 

Designing for disassembly is a movement in architecture to admit that their structures will likely not live out their entire lifespan and that when the building is removed someday in the future, the materials that make up that structure will be worth harvesting and that the design should favor this disassembly.  The more fasteners, ADHESIVES, and other waste producing or labor consuming building systems that are battled when the building is taken apart, the more unlikely that deconstruction will be a viable choice for building removal. 

Having deconstructed 500 structures in the last 16 years, RE-USE Consulting has gained a unique perspective on this problem and is moving ahead with its own solutions to be applied to today’s buildings.  We hope that tomorrow’s buildings will be made of reusable panels that can be reused and are perhaps constructed on multiples of 16″ or 24″, floating floor panels, paneling set in channels with fewer fasteners, and well thought out use of adhesives.  

I have seen what zero waste looks like.  It is an amazing thing.  Imagine a job site where the building was removed and the stacks of materials sitting on the ground confuse the passer-by.  Is a building about to be built, or did it just come down? 

Should we focus first on zero-waste, or should we focus on increasing the percentage of materials that are diverted for reuse?  In the end, the reuse of materials can be many times better than simply recycling them due to the preservation of energy, job creation associated with it, and from resource conservation.

Do green buildings sell better than their counterparts?

At one of the Greenbuild session I attended last week, Andy Florance, CEO of CoStar, said the biggest lie in the construction world used to be “my building is under construction.” Now, he said, “that lie has been replaced by my building is LEED certified.”

What is the gold-green standard? Image courtesy Kristopher Lee

What is the gold-green standard? Image courtesy Kristopher Lee

That got me thinking about what the highest standard of green building is. Is is LEED platinum? Is it a living building? What about a building that is netzero energy? So I’ve posed the question to you in a new poll at right, and would love to hear what goal you think all buildings should be striving for, if they should be striving for any green goal at all. Or comment below and tell me what standard you think is the best.

But I digress, back to the topic line: do green buildings sell better than their counterparts? According to CoStar, that answer is yes. 

CoStar did a study of the buildings in its entire U.S. database between the first quarter of 2006 and the first quarter of 2008, and based on that information, LEED buildings were 4 percent more occupied than their competitors, renting at $11.33 more per square foot and selling at $171 more per square foot, a 64 percent advantage. Both the occupancy rates and rental amounts climbed – from 4 to 6 percent and from an $11.33 to $18.58 advantage – if you count the past two quarters of this year.

But, Florance cautioned, that information is going to be really tough, if impossible, to measure in the future, thanks to the current state of the economy.

If you want more factual information, read my article in the DJC here that has loads more information on the topic. Or you can see a version of this study dated March here.

More images of ‘net zero’ townhouses underway in Issaquah

After a tumultuous year, the zHome project has started off on a new foot with its Monday groundbreaking. The project is a 10-unit townhome development in the Issaquah Highlands that uses smart design and technology to create all the energy it consumes. It plans have net zero carbon emissions and cut water use by 60 percent.

I first wrote about the project last December here when Noland Homes was the builder on the project and planned to develop it at its own cost. A lot has changed since then: namely Noland dropped out and Howland Homes came on (and will develop it at its own cost). But the project has finally broken ground and, as Brad Liljequist, zHome project manager for the city of Issaquah, says in the project’s inaugual blog post (yes it has a blog here) it “takes my breath away a little bit” to be at this stage in the project’s life.

zHome has a nifty Web site that can answer all and any of your questions from what materials are being used to how they’re doing it to how to buy into it. For more information, visit it here.










Blogging from Globe – Zero emission polar stations and creating a NATO for climate change

Globe2008, a conference dedicated to “developing the business of the environment” is under way in Vancouver, B.C., and its star openers spoke this morning at an opening plenary. Prince Philipe=pe

One of those speakers, Prince Philippe of Belgium, asked whether questions of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, could be better answered by an international organization that has the power to set standards across international boundaries. The force could act as an environment-focused NATO, coincidentally headquartered in Brussels, Belgium.

“It could even be said that we need a global governance to tackle the global challenge of climate change in a globalized world,” he said. “In the Belgian view, a UN environmental organization would help us to achieve these goals in time.”

Globalization of environmental problems, and understanding how personal actions affect people in other parts of the world is a hot topic. As environmental awareness grows, so has awareness about how things that seem positive, like biofuel crop growth or recycling your electronics, can have negative environmental effects elsewhere in the world.

A great example of the difficulties of meeting giant goals like getting to carbon neutrality is online in The New Yorker’s Feb. 25 edition here.


Another topic Philippe touched on is the zero emission Princess Elisabeth Antarctic Polar Station, currently under construction. He said the station, named after his daughter, is a premier example of rethinking traditional buildings and spaces.

Once complete, the station will be a base for field research and exploration. The station is billed as a “zero emission” project, as it plans to use 100 percent renewable energy. For more information on the station or the project team, press here.

Other speakers at the opening plenary were Gordon Campbell, premier of British Columbia; and Beth Lowery, vice president of environment energy at General Motors. Dianne Dillon-Ridgeley, director of Interface in Atlanta moderated the discussion. Other topics touched on included the future of green cars, how business can work better with government to create envrionmentally-friendly advances, and the need to move quickly.