Monday, November 17, 2014

Sustainable Design Leaders: Healthy Building Materials Summit


Over 130 members of our green building community came together on Friday, 11/14, to learn and share knowledge about healthy materials in buildings.

We gathered at Google's Kendall Square (Cambridge) offices - in their new "bridge space" on the fifth floor. They have an extensive audio-visual set up and we enjoyed filling up the entire theater.


The Sustainable Design Leaders of New England organized the entire program and Blake Jackson of Tsoi/Kobus Associates (a Chapter Sponsor) served as the MC.

We heard brief presentations from a panel of six experts on various aspects of healthy materials choices in the design and operation of buildings - from the owners' side, manufacturers and advocates. Below is Nadav Malin from BuidlingGreen and to the left are:

  • Bill Walsh from the Healthy Buildings Network
  • Heather Henriksen of the Harvard Office for Sustainability
  • Denis Darragh from Forbo Flooring
  • Melissa McCullough from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute 
  • Scott Tobias of ASSA ABLOY


We had a great turnout of many of the leaders of the green building industry in Massachusetts and beyond. The "unconference" aspect was especially engaging. The program was made possible by the contributions of many, especially the sponsors:

  • Premium Sponsors:
    • A Better City
    • Armstrong
    • ASSA ABLOY
    • Bergmeyer
    • Forbo Flooring
    • Google
    • Knauf Insulation
    • Nelson
    • USGBC MA
  • Sponsors:
    • Boston Society of Architects
    • Gensler
    • Goody Clancy
    • Hydrotect
    • Sasaki
    • Sustainable Minds


The entire group broke out into three rooms and pairs of the speakers toured around, 30 minutes with each group, participating in a crowd-derived conversation. A lot of specific exploring occurred. How can manufacturers declare their EPDs w/o losing market share due to "first-declaring penalty?" How can builders start to look at the longevity of their products? What is the trade off between longevity and toxicity? Maybe some products could actually be designed for shorter utilization periods and not have to be so durable, in the way durability efforts generally drive more and more complex and potentially dangerous chemistry...? 


Hat's off to the Sustainable Design Leaders of New England, Healthy Materials Summit Organizing Team!

Congratulations Arjun Mande of Goody Clancy, Mihir Parikh of A Better City, Anastasia Huggins of Gensler, [me] and Blake Jackson of Tsoi/Kobus!

I'm sure we're already looking ahead to next year's Summit!


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

USGBC MA Hosts Senator Eldridge for Discussion on Net Zero Energy Buildings

by Michael Sigmon, Sterritt Lumber, FSC Sales Broker

            On November 10th, the RGBC had the pleasure of hosting Senator Jamie Eldridge (D – Acton) for our monthly presentation. This highly anticipated event did not disappoint. In a true roundtable discussion fashion, Senator Eldridge gave us insight into what the legislature is doing for green building in the residential community.

            Senator Eldridge’s commitments to the environment, and green building in particular were made very clear from the start. As Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, he seeks “to investigate the issues involving global warming and climate change, including but not limited to carbon emissions, greenhouse gas emissions and renewable energies.” Senator Eldridge also serves on the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, where he focuses on renewable energy. It is very clear he is committed to “greening” the Metro West!

            Some of Senator Eldridge’s accomplishments include filing bill S.1587, to  promote zero net-energy buildings in the Commonwealth, by requiring a 30% more energy efficiency standard than the international code. Also, Eldridge was instrumental in passing the 2010 PACE legislation.

            While Senator Eldridge actively advocates for investing more in green energy, he acknowledged we can still do much more. Education for the general public can always be improved, and he seeks to limit confusion on energy codes for the masses. Other topics discussed included deep energy retrofit programs, tax incentives for green building, and progressive residential champions, such as Carter Scott’s initiatives. We also learned that when a bill is “put to study,” it is a nice way of saying it is “put to pasture!”

            Most importantly, the group discussed what we can do as citizens and colleagues to help advocate for bills beneficial to green building. Senator Eldridge was receptive to scheduling a visit to the statehouse where experts could speak to the bills and issues, and recognized it is these individuals that can make a huge difference in educating the masses. To stay up to date with Senator Eldridge’s initiatives visit http://www.senatoreldridge.com/issues/environment.

Thank you Senator Eldridge!





Monday, November 10, 2014

And now for some good news.....

By Kevin Dufour, Chapter Member; LEED AP O+M




As an environmental scientist and sustainability consultant, I try to stay current with the latest research about our environment and in particular, climate change.  Often times the flow of information is relentless and sometimes downright depressing.  Constantly hearing such stories as how the California drought and Australian Heatwave have been definitively linked to to climate change, or, that birds ranges have been pushed further toward the poles and that many species may face future extinction can eventually get you down,  Why even the mangroves, that iconic symbol of the tropics, have been relentlessly marching away from the equator due to warmer winters.  It can be hard not to devolve into pessimism.  

A Reason for Hope.

However, I recently had an enjoyable and encouraging conversation about climate change. The information was correct, current, and even nuanced. My partner in conversation knew about ocean acidification, the natural drivers of climate change, attempts at mitigation and resiliency, feedback loops, and the basic principles of atmospheric science. He was ten years old. If he is that knowledgeable, then perhaps, others in his generation are so informed. This is a cause for optimism indeed. I thought that I should share some positive stories and that such would help those of us in the vanguard of the green movement carry forward. Perhaps such items would help keep the wolves of despair at bay for a while longer.

Positive Efforts

There have been several news stories that have focused on the potentially positive efforts.  These include stories of technological innovation and political will.  I was particularly encouraged by the development of floating solar panels. What a great idea.  This helps solve the issue of devoting so much productive land to solar power generation.  These panels can be deployed on reservoirs, industrial/agricultural lagoons, even at sea.  Obviously care must be taken to not disrupt the ecosystems with the shade these will create but it can turn non-productive water areas into electrical generators.

Greener Ag.

A second area of innovation that i believe may hold much promise is in the area of agriculture.  Agriculture is often vilified due to its impact on erosion, chemical run off, and the detrimental effects of mono culture cropping.  Major advances have been made that go a long way to minimizing those impacts.  A consortium of companies and governments has launched the climate smart agriculture initiative.  This seeks to use technological and agronomic best practices to both work with a changing climate, and to mitigate it impact, as much as possible.  This will be vital to continue to produce food, in as sustainable manner as possible, to feed the world despite the increasing pressures climate change will present..  There are critics, and such a program would need to monitored, but, its about spreading best practices around the world, increasing yields, and reducing or eliminating environmental impacts.  All ideas must be on the table and this is a good start. 

The precision agriculture movement works hand in hand with Climate smart agriculture by leveraging technology to minimize impacts and maximize productivity.  At first glance this seems like science fiction but it is real and it is being used today.  Precision agriculture involves the use of advanced sensors to detect drought stress and pest pressure on crops.  It uses guided applications of nutrients, pesticides, and water to alleviate those issues.  Rather than using a crop duster to bombard a field or broadcasting fertilizer where it may not be needed, the applications are targeted to the individual plant in need.  Water is only applied exactly where needed and in a manner to minimize evaporation.  The end result is greater productivity, less costs, and far less impacts than current practices.  As I mentioned, this is being done now.  The higher yields and lower use of nutrients and chemicals reduces cost to such an extent that the return on investment can be as little as 2 to 3 years. No matter how you slice it, that is good news.

China, Business, and Citizens stepping up.

Another area of positive movement is world wide acceptance  of the challenges we face. That is no more evident than in the burgeoning environmental awakening taking place in China.   Make no mistake about it, China is a mess and will continue to be a mess for a long time.  That said, they are making  dramatic strides in a developing environmental protection system.  They have begun instituting trial cap and trade systems. They have banned all coal burning in Beijing by 2020 and placed limits on coal burning power plants.  Most transformational of all has been their establishment of  a system that allows for public interest lawsuits as a means of driving environmental change.  Even if they are harvesting "low hanging fruit", China is making substantial gains and putting the US to shame.

While I have been disappointed by the United States congressional lack of leadership on climate change, I have been heartened by the actions of its citizens. A huge crowd gathered in NYC to march for climate action. Ironically just a couple of days earlier Gov. Christie - who pulled New Jersey from the Regional Green House Gas Initiative - was in NYC to speak before a donor convention for the climate change denying Koch brother backed Americans for Prosperity super PAC. I guess its two steps forward, one step back.   Students have taken the lead in advocating for college endowments to divest themselves of carbon intensive investments.  This strategy is not just ethical investing from the days of combating apartheid but it also makes simple economic sense.  If, in order to meet the 2 degrees C climate benchmark, we must leave large amounts of oil, gas, and coal in the ground - do proven reserves have any value?  Even the Rockefellers, of Standard Oil fame and fortune, have announced plans to divest up to 50 Billion from fossil fuels including tar sands. 

The Rockefeller Fund is not the only corporate citizen pushing for action on climate change.  Many corporate citizens have stepped to the plate.  You can argue whether or not it is ethics or profits that drive this new found idealism but I care not, the end result is the same.  Both Google and Microsoft and even News Corp.  have announced plans to withdraw all funding and support from the climate change denial bill mill of the American Legislative Exchange Council.  A sure sign that corporate citizens are viewing climate change as a risk to their bottom line is the alliance between Henry Paulson, Michael Bloomberg, and Tom Steyer.  This project, funded by heavy hitters from all sides of the political spectrum illustrates how climate change can, if thoughtfully addressed, cross all political boundaries.  The Risky Business project "focuses on quantifying and publicizing the economic risks from the impacts of climate change." In my mind, it's the action that matters more than the motivation.  I don't care if climate change is addressed to preserve corporate profit and minimize risk or if it is being done to save the world, so long as action is taken.

Positive Results.

We are starting to see some positive outcomes from actions that have already been taken.  This past year, 2014, is the first year that we have not recorded a single exceedence of the Ozone standard (Smog) in Massachusetts.
In fact, air quality all over Massachusetts and the united states has been getting steadily better and better.  This is a clear testament to the impact that forward thinking governmental policies can achieve when driven by an educated and motivated populace.  The image below and the fantastic animation at this link shows the reduction in air pollution over the last several years as imaged from a NASA satellite.
Finally, the antarctic ozone hole, remember that, has been healing itself.  Ever since the Montreal Protocol banned chlorofluorocarbons and other stratospheric ozone depleting chemicals, the earths atmosphere has been steadily healing.  This again is illustrative of the fact that concerted collective action can effect great change.

  Even the Economist has pointed out that the greatest advances in climate change have come from large governmental action including treaties, energy standards, efficiency, and even building codes. Progress is happening and its happening in unlikely places and with unlikely partnerships.  Hey, even the Economist is covering climate change, that's a reason to be hopeful.

Kevin Dufour is an Environmental Scientist with Viridis Advisors. He collaborates with Tom Irwin on creating greener greenscapes. The opinions expressed by member bloggers are their own and not necessarily those of the USGBC Massachusetts Chapter.
 



Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Recognizing Sponsoring Partner: Simpson Gumpertz & Heger




About Simpson Gumpertz & Heger

Simpson Gumpertz & Heger (SGH) is a national engineering firm that designs, investigates, and rehabilitates structures and building enclosures. Our award-winning work encompasses building, transportation, nuclear, water/wastewater, and science/defense projects throughout the United States and in more than 30 other countries. 

SGH Employees are star volunteers with the Chapter:

Mark Webster has supported our outreach and cultivation of nodes of green building market transformation throughout the state on our Regional and State-wide Advocacy Committee. "RASOC" has enabled groups to come together in western MA, Worcester County, and on Cape Cod. Mark also is part of our Building Science working group.

David Bliss, another engineer at SGH, has been instrumental with our Advocacy Committee and created our Voters Guide this year to provide stakeholders insight into how to grill candidates on our issues - what and how will they support our mission of green buildings for all within a generation? David is also supporting our website redesign with attention to our graphics and mapped representations of green buildings and green building activity.

Thank you to SGH for being a valued and hard-working supporting Sponsoring Partner with the USGBC MA Chapter!