Sunday, July 25, 2010

Being a LEEDer

If you are in any part involved in sustainable building or community development in the USA, you've probably heard something about LEED.

LEED is part of the U.S. Green Building Council, an internationally recognized green building certification system, which helps to ensure that 'green building' (commercial or residential) or a community is actually 'green' by providing a third party assessment of the development and a certification. LEED more specifically helps give credit to design and development that is working towards "improving performance across all the metrics that matter most: energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts" (as quoted from the LEED website).

As I carve out a career in sustainable community development, I see the LEED certification as an essential educational process to explore and a smart tool to possess for proactive planning and consulting. I'm interested to find out how easy it is to get this certification and wondering what other benefits having a LEED certificate provide, like networking with communities, organizations and businesses using LEED or moving in the direction towards more progressive and assured sustainable development.

Central questions:
What does LEED do? It helps measure

One may become a LEED Green Associate or possess other LEED Professional Credentials (LEED APs) by taking the LEED Exam. If you are interested visit the LEED Professional Credentials page and download the Study Guide for the exam. But first, visit the GBCI Candidate handbook to check out what type of credential you are seeking.

You can check out what type of LEED certifications may be right for you...

A side note- the Green Building Certification Institute is looking for volunteers. Your help may be counted as hours towards a certification!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Slow Housing

I am currently trying out a different living situation- shared housing. I am renting a renovated apartment in an older home with other tenants. This is not anything new to most people. I imagine a large population of Americans live in some sort of shared housing, whether condos, apartments or intentional housing. But, for me, I have not really lived in too many situations where I share a building with other people. I am more inclined for singular homes promising quiet and privacy, preferably in the country. However, I have been thinking about how much more sustainable shared housing is then individual housing and about how many people around the world often live in buildings sharing walls and roofs with other people.

In regards to sustainability, it makes sense to at least try this style of living out because it is centrally located so I do not need to commute, I am sharing space that already exists with other people and making relationships. Now I just have to turn the whole building onto edible landscaping or at least a shared garden, utilizing local renewable energy and increasing energy efficiencies and energy conservation... the challenge begins with 5 Steps towards more Sustainable Shared Housing:
Step #1- find out how to utilize electricity generated from renewable energy sources... maybe even convince the landlord to invest in solar panels in which all tenants would find reduced electricity bills due to generating a portion of our own electricity needs.
Step #2- already into July, look into what type of foods can we still grow and harvest into the autumn? create raised beds or planters to share
Step #3- designate a composting corner in the shared backyard to enrich local soil and not throw away nutrient-rich food scrapes and install an easy-to-use recycling area for all tenants to use
Step #4- education on weatherization as the autumn approaches with cooler temperatures- turn the landlord of the building onto more weatherization projects for the entire building and also educate tenants on energy conservation.
Step #5- really audacious, but create a living roof to 'green-up' space or install living walls in the building to help circulate heating and cooling (depending on the season) throughout the space and create healthy atmosphere
I have been on a 'slow' kick lately, looking into slow fashion, slow food, and now slow housing. The Sharing Solution is a great informational blog speaking to this evolving movement, as more and more people consider how to live and promote sustainable living. Check out a list of what participants at a Bioneer's Conference wrote for what they thought was a "Slow Homes Movement" at: "Bioneering" Ideas for Sharing, Part 4: The Slow Homes Movement"

Friday, July 16, 2010

Initiating a Transition Town

While traveling through Europe and especially England, I visited a few Transition Towns. Totnes Transition Town , in England, is the stand out (which I have posted information about earlier on this blog) due to it being the original Transition Town where the founder lives and continues to spearhead and inspire collaborative programs and initiatives related to the Transition Town movement that ripples out through communities wanting to do the same around the world.

As mentioned before, while walking the streets of Totnes, I could sense there was something quite special about the town and was amazed and delighted to see the variety of community-owned shops; artisans galleries, speciality shops, bakeries, quaint cafes and resturants, independent bookstores, little groceries selling local foods, natural health stores, handcrafted wears and body shops and more. In a way it did remind me of my community, Durango, Colorado but on an even more localized, down-home, humbled wavelength. After visited Totnes and reading up on all the community initiatives happening, I also ended up viewing the In Transition: The Transition Town Movement Documentary at the local Sustainable Living Film Festival in Karlskrona, Sweden where I was studying Sustainability at Blekinge Institute of Technology. The documentary is great and I recommend you see it and even more get a bunch of community members together to watch it and get inspired to start your own Transition Town in your town!

And this is what I am interested in doing here in Durango, Colorado. I am in the process of researching the steps in which other towns have initiated a Transition Town movement in their own communities and I hope to share the steps and process of doing it here with you. I know in theory it seems like an easy thing to do- talking to people, getting a steering committee together, joining the network and connecting to other Transition Towns to share stories and processes about success aspects and such, but the initial stage of communicating to the community and getting support, involvement and momentum seems a little daunting. However, I realize, here in Durango, similiar initiatives are already happening with great non-profits like Four Corners Office for Resource Effieciency, the Sustainability Alliance of Southwest Colorado and Turtle Lake Refuge, just to mention a few, as well as a weekly local farmer's market and great locally-owned and supported businesses, orgnizations and programs... yet it all needs some glue it seems. It seems, often, in a lot of places that there are great things happening, but they are not glued together in some sort of overall momentum building towards a shared vision.

A shared vision- the secret to success...

Visiting communities in Denmark and Germany that were initiating and establishing community renewable energy projects, it seemed that the key to their success- producing community supported renewable energy and profiting from it with good return on investment, was heavily related to them having a shared vision which built an image and town branding, like "Clean City..." or "Green City..." or "Fair Trade City..." that attracted tourists and residents and helped retain the young people that would continue to make that town or city a great place to live.

So what is Durango's vision? What does Durango want their image to be- their branding as a model city? I think this may be a first step that either leads to a transition town movement or maybe the transition town movement would help Durango discover???

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Zero Waste?

So what exactly does Zero Waste mean? Is it possible? These were my questions when I read that Telluride, Colorado has a Zero Waste Action Plan for the Mountain Village of San Miguel county. And looking it over, it seems like a no-brainer that I want my community to think about too!

The Action Plan is laid out in these basic, but extensive areas:

Clean Production: More resource efficient, recoverable, less toxic production

Retail Stores: Consumer education and take-back programs (where products can be returned to the provider to recycle)

Consumer Buying Power: Creating consumer demand and eco-market & manufacturing standards

Producer Responsibility: Manufacturers are part of the solution, taking back their products or supporting recovery infrastructure

Resource Recovery Parks: Community center for total recovery, reuse, recycle, composting, material exchange and recovery

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs: Redesign and recovery. Create more jobs than resource destruction- Green Market

Changing the Rules: Removing market barriers and inequalities to support sustainable industry.

Shifting Subsidies: Stimulating green practices rather than favoring waste and pollution

Design for the Environment, Not the Dump: All products must be recoverable through reuse, recycling and composting.

That's it. Simple, common sense- right? All of these areas highlight thinking upstream, employing an iterative process, and using Cradle to Cradle design or darn near close. I believe this is the vision of tomorrow- it will become mandatory, necessary and favored, because it advocates for a better EVERYTHING.

However, with any long-term vision, there are hills to climb and some initial obstacles to change.

There are many areas that Telluride is working on to make this Action Plan a reality in fulfilling their vision of Zero Waste. Here are the areas which need serious consideration, which is probably a similar situation for all communities wanting to work towards Zero Waste:

"After review of the local solid waste, reuse and recycling system, there are a number of services that stand out as critical to moving forward with the Zero Waste goal in this region:

Composting - A composting facility is needed to compost all organics, including yard trimmings,

food scraps and food-soiled paper

Resource Recovery Park - More efficient recycling operations are needed to process reusables and recyclables from the region, including recyclables from construction and demolition debris, ideally in a Resource Recovery Park design

Solid Waste System Redesign - Garbage contracts, rate structures and services provided need to be revised to provide incentives to all involved to move to Zero Waste (as detailed above)."

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Clotheslines are Beautiful

While traveling in Europe, I fell hard in love with clotheslines!

How have we come to be so disconnected and pulled away from the simple pleasures in life, like hanging clothes out to dry, breathing in fresh air, observing the landscape or cityscape, a neighbor, a fox or a passerby- saying hello? I know I am being over romantic here. I know that it is easier to sometimes say "I'll hang them up later" and later becomes a day, where you then have moldy and musty clothes. I know, I know it is sweet time when you are busy and pressed to get things done. But, what if we didn't have the luxury of a dryer and you knew that was the only way your clothes would get dry? Would having to hang clothes out to dry enrich our lives with more connection to the world outside and around us?

I think so.

I see clotheslines as part of the Slow Movement. The act makes you maybe move slower. Maybe makes one realize the joy in how clothes can smell like the sky and breeze and be warmed by the sun.

So, anyone interested in spreading a National Clothesline Day? I aim to set up an installation of a beautiful clothesline demonstration this summer at my local farmers market, so check back to hear how it goes and see pictures.

Enjoy the summer and turn that dryer off- save energy and enjoy the outdoors!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Big & Fast, we are

After being back in the US for a few weeks now, I am still adjusting to the way we Americans do things here compared to the things and practices I grew accustomed to in Sweden and the European countries I visited while abroad. These disturbing 'things' can be simplified into all things fast we are sometimes associated with- food, traffic, work, time in a day...

Flying from Spain (which isn't the greatest mode of transportation in itself) and it's siestas into fast NYC was an interesting homecoming, especially because we did not just land and find friends or family welcoming us back to a home to recupurate from let jet-lag and culture shock, but a trip to Budget Rental and onto the road to Michigan. Our plan of visiting my brother in upstate NY, devised back in the winter, was foiled and this was the next best thing we thought. However, after getting used to not having a car, using public transportation, riding a bike and witnessing most people making similar choices, it was a surreal experience landing back in this country of 'fast' and 'big' things. Also never visiting NYC before and navigating out of the city through all the suburbs on our way out like Harlem, the Bronx and others- it was crazy! I was practically freightened to be in our rental car navigating, in and out, through the sea of vehicles.

I am still getting used to being back on the road with so many over-sized trucks, SUVs and big vehicles. With it being 4th of July and celebrating our Independence, I find it somewhat ironic that 'independence' can be associated with big trucks sometimes- this is not independence, this is dependence of a finite supply of oil that will be the downfall of the US economy if we are not smarter. Maybe someday a wind turbine can signify Independence more than a big loud truck.

So, some solutions...

I think I may stick with not owning a vehicle for a while. After growing used to not having a car in Sweden and just biking, walking and using the bus, I have found this to be quite enjoyable.


smart vehicles- biodiesel, electric, smaller and more efficient vehicles

How can we make this smarter way of getting around more sexy? How can we promote healthier habitats while promoting healthier lifestyles and ways of getting from point A to point B... it is more about looking at the service that people need instead of the 'products' like big and 'false sexy' vehicles. We can do better, right?

Smart Grids

On my recent road trip from Michigan to Colorado I occupied myself with a collection of current and older National Geographic magazines and fed myself on tantalizing advancements in the developing renewable energy grid systems in the US and Europe and ever-growing solar energy developments in the US. This information is specifically exciting to me because I just completed my MSc thesis on Sustainable Community Renewable Energy; a Strategic Approach for Communities and along with two colleagues, designed the Sustaianble Renewable Energy Tool (SCRE Tool) to help support communities and organizations wanting to initiate renewable energy projects or assess current ones in working towards more sustainable energy development strategically.

So what is a Smart Grid?

In National Geographic July 2010, Joel Achenbach's article The 21st Grid walks us through what exactly the US electricity grid looks like... a crazy unplanned complex and inefficient system getting more and more complex and unstable. Here he also introduces a solution to this mess we unconsciously depend on and support daily with the developing technology of the Smart Grid. And having just lived in Sweden and visited Denmark and Germany, I know first-hand what these 'Smarter' grid systems look like and what type of benefits they create for consumers and the nations employing them.

A Smart Grid, basically means that it is a 'smarter' electricity grid system, in that it is able to 'sense' and 'self-heal' itself with peaks, lows and the changing demand of electricity in the grid. As Achenbach puts it:
The precise definition of "smart" varies from one engineer to the next. The gist is that a smart grid would be more automated and more "self-healing," and so less prone to failure. It would be more tolerant of small-scale, variable power sources such as solar panels and wind turbines, in part because it would even out fluctuations by storing energy—in the batteries of electric cars, according to one speculative vision of the future, or perhaps in giant caverns filled with compressed air.
A Smart Grid offers more than more efficient, stable and safer electricity supply, it would also help us all to become more conscious of our electricity use and advocate for consumers to be more involved in the process of consuming and depending on necessary electricity. Once again I'd like to quote Achenbach, especially because it echoes what I have been researching and designing in my thesis work:
But the first thing a smart grid will do, if we let it, is turn us into savvier consumers of electricity. We'll become aware of how much we're consuming and cut back, especially at moments of peak demand, when electricity costs most to produce. That will save us and the utilities money—and incidentally reduce pollution. In a way, we'll stop being mere passive consumers of electrons. In the 21st century we'll become active participants in the management of this vast and seemingly unknowable network that makes our civilization possible.
Attention. You may be part of something great that happens to the US...
According to government sources, the United States plans to announce the formation of the International Smart Grid Action Network, or ISGAN, to expand the U.S. energy market through smart grid standardization and take the lead in the new energy business. The Obama administration is expected to make the announcement at the first ministerial meeting on clean energy to take place in Washington, D.C. on July 19-20. For complete article, visit the new article at Smart Meters website.
Smart Meters, Leverage Points for more sustainable energy consumption...
Along with the Smart Grid, the Smart Meter which helps consumers better understand their electricity needs and their consumption of electricity is a growing solution for smart consumers. Smart meters are very popular in renewable energy progressive countries like Denmark, Germany and Sweden.
For more info on Smart Meters see this great introductory pdf