Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The R3build Design Competition - from a Chapter Member's perspective

My Experience with the R3build Design Competition

By Sebastian Downs, EIT, LEED GA, Boston Green Schools Volunteer Management Coordinator

The Competition

Last November, Urban Green, New York’s USGBC chapter, opened registration for their emerging professional design competition, “R3build.” The design was for a new home on Breezy Point, NY, which was one of many communities devastated by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The objective of this competition was to design a home with a focus on resiliency, energy, environment, and economy. To create an affordable, scalable, modular home that could be quickly built in coastal communities impacted by natural disasters, and which would be resilient enough to withstand extreme weather events. The design also had to meet all local codes, and LEED v4 for Homes Gold standard.

When I decided to sign-up, I figured it would be a fun way to engage with some of my far flung friends in architecture and engineering programs, good hands on experience in working with a cross disciplinary team on a design project, and a chance to flex my newly accredited Green Associate skills. It proved to be all of those things and more.

The Design

Coordinating primarily via Google Drive and Hangout, we ended up with a design that was truly a melding of many individuals’ inputs. Our final design was inspired by the dynamic yet resistant nature of the sand dune, which is simultaneously shaped by the ocean, and yet protects itself and the surrounding area from storm damage.

We used shipping containers as a primary building element since they are water and wind proof, highly durable, modular, and relatively inexpensive for the size and durability they provide. The roof system mimicked sand dunes in shape and was lofted above the structural elements, which would reduce wind speeds, increase solar exposure for panels, and provide some cover for the upper deck level. The interior had an open layout that could be rearranged to suit the needs of the occupants including a mobile kitchen island to distinguish the kitchen from living space. Even the landscaping resembled dunes with bio-swales infiltrating stormwater on site. The building systems provided resiliency through redundancy, such as integrating both solar hot water and an electric heating element, so that if one system broke there would be a back up. We anticipated the design achieving 71 points on the LEED v4 for Homes, including all the potential regional priority credits.

The Results

On March 12th, two of my teammates and I attended the Urban Green spring reception as one of five finalist teams in the emerging professional design competition (working from Boston, upstate New York, and Rome, not every team member could make it in to NYC on a Wednesday night). As it turns out, we were the only finalist team with no professional architects or engineers. Although we did not rank in the top three, the design was noted by the judges for being the only in the competition to use shipping container architecture and bio-mimicry.

The winning design, a self-titled “Bayside Bunker,” came from an architecture duo out of Queensland, Australia.

You can learn more about the competition, and the winning design at http://www.urbangreencouncil.org/UGCInteraction?key=VuPr1ULj4D3YuIxaVgYqfA_3D_3D

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Challenge for Sustainability: A Better City's Awards Winners

Courtesy Mihir Parikh, Sustainability Programs Coordinator at A Better City

Prominent Boston Businesses Lead Charge on Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions 

Emissions reduced 18% since 2009; leaders celebrate at Annual Challenge for Sustainability Awards

Boston, March 20, 2014 – Over 100 of Boston’s largest buildings and employers came together at the New England Aquarium to honor and celebrate their accomplishments at A Better City’s 5th Challenge for Sustainability Awards. The Challenge for Sustainability works with Boston business leaders and properties to improve energy efficiency and overall sustainability; leading the efforts of the private sector towards the City’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 25% by 2020. Since the program’s debut in 2009, participants have collectively reduced greenhouse gas emissions by a staggering 18% and implemented over 1,500 sustainability actions. 

The Challenge Awards recognize businesses who achieved significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and improvements in their overall sustainability. This year’s award for Greatest Energy Reduction went to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Shields Warren building, which achieved a 20% drop in electricity use, saving nearly 200,000 kWh of electricity. 

The Most Improved Sustainability Score was awarded to Nixon Peabody LLP and John Hancock at 601 Congress Street took home the award for Highest Sustainability Score. 

The award for Largest Greenhouse Gas Reduction also went to John Hancock for their 197 Clarendon Street building which has seen a 40% drop in greenhouse gases since “We are honored to receive these awards from ABC’s Challenge for Sustainability. It is extremely gratifying that these awards recognize John Hancock's continuing commitment to finding ways to decrease energy and water consumption and increase sustainability initiatives,” said Bruce Pearson, Managing Director, US Corporate Real Estate, John Hancock Financial Services. “Each year we evaluate how we can better operate and manage our buildings through energy conservation initiatives and improved business practices. From recycling and composting, to support of employee bicycling, to capital efficiency projects, John Hancock’s investments in these initiatives help the environment and make good business sense.” 

A much prized Peer Award, voted on by fellow program participants recognizing an individual for their outstanding contributions to the program, guidance, and leadership, was presented to Fred O’Grady, Chief Engineer at One Beacon Street (managed by CBRE). 

Additionally, 59 facilities representing over 25 million square feet of commercial real estate, received certificates for achieving their sustainability goals and excellence in the following categories: People, Energy, Water, Waste, Purchasing, Cleaning & Toxins and Transportation. See a full recap of the winners and event here

In 2013 participants in the Challenge for Sustainability collectively reduced CO2 emissions by 2.2%, including a reduction of over 18 million kWh. These electricity reductions saved participants over $1.4 million in electricity costs. According to Mike Cantalupa, Senior Vice President of Development at Boston Properties and Chairman of A Better City, “The Challenge for Sustainability has proven its success amongst Boston’s commercial real estate sector. This effort is helping businesses reduce their energy costs while moving the City and State closer to achieving aggressive goals for sustaining our climate.” 

About the Challenge for Sustainability 

ABC’s Challenge for Sustainability is a voluntary program that engages buildings and businesses in Greater Boston with a holistic approach to implementing sustainability and energy efficiency programs. 

The Challenge for Sustainability provides participants with a concierge level of service that leads them through a complete benchmarking of their facility, the development of a comprehensive sustainability action plan, and offers them valuable technical assistance and peer to peer networking and sharing of best practices in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create a more sustainable work site. 

The Challenge for Sustainability is designed to leverage the private sector’s ability to influence change and make Boston a leader in energy efficiency and sustainable business practices. The program challenges businesses, institutions, and building owners to meet a broad range of sustainability standards and practices within energy efficiency, water efficiency, transportation, waste reduction & management, cleaning & toxics, program implementation & policies, purchasing, and renewable energy in order to reduce environmental impacts and improve the economic competitiveness and preparedness of businesses throughout the region. 

About A Better City 

A Better City (ABC) is a Boston-based, non-profit organization that represents the business and institutional community on issues of transportation, land development, and the environment. ABC improves the economic competitiveness and quality of life in the Boston region by providing leadership on significant policies, projects, and initiatives related to the commercial real estate sector.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

LEED for Affordable Housing - LISC & USGBC Collaboration

The Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC) convened a LEED Workshop for facilities professionals interested in pursuing the LEED GA credential. LISC works to improve the capacity community development corporations and a lot of affordable housing professionals. Part of our USGBC mission is to help more people enter the green building industry, and to improve the capacity of the professional cadre to deliver high quality service. As we build up our crew, we will continue to transform the marketplace toward improved performance. It was great to see all these folks eager to go for the LEED GA!

One of the Chapter's all-star volunteers, Mike Davis, works for LISC and came up with the idea of connecting his facilities-oriented people to our LEED education capacity. A lot of community developers are looking at the LEED EBOM system as a way to help improve facility management in their portfolios, and as a way of enhancing building performance which results in lower costs for low-income residents.

In talking with staff and other volunteers, we realized that a one-day workshop would be the best way to meet the needs of these professionals. We also benefited from the offer of another Chapter all-star, Chris Liston, of CBRE, who volunteered to provide the workshop. He has done this for his firm and has even created an 8-hour curriculum that he was willing to contribute. Chris' contribution cannot be underestimated: it was tremendous. Thank you Chris!

I was especially excited to see such a broad diversity of practitioners, all very engaged with the course. For some it may have been a bit of a review, for others it was quite a good deep delve into the intricacies of LEED points and minutiae. Chris was a great teacher and kept people's attention. As a bonus for the participants, each will be eligible to attend our ongoing LEED Study Groups in Boston or Worcester (whichever is closer) in order to stay "in tune" with other students.

Thank you to LISC for underwriting the program, including the refreshments for the attendees. We will be following up to help ensure everyone proceeds to prep and take the GA exam.

It was a great day for the LEED Workshop in Boston. I was happy for the connections the Chapter made to the over 40 participants coming from a lot of organizations that are doing what we do, but haven't previously been very close to us. We will continue to reach out to support CDCs and the affordable housing sector across Massachusetts. I should note that there were a few folks who are old familiar faces - from National Grid, from ELP, and the Community Builders to name a few, great to see indeed. Finally, thank you to Mike, Chris and also Betsy Glynn, also of LISC, for pulling this together. See you next time!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Residential Green Building Committee March Meeting

By Peter Hubbe  [ICF International, Massachusetts Residential New Construction Program]

March 10, 2014 Meeting

RGBC member Craig Foley presented “Energy Efficiency, Valuation of High Performance Homes, & Market Transformation on Massachusetts Residential Real Estate, 2013”

Craig is Chief of Energy Solutions for RE/MAX Leading Edge. 

Craig Foley speaking to the Residential New Construction Committee

Craig started off by reminding us of weather related damage that has been more frequent and more severe in the last decade. In New England we have seen the tornados that hit Springfield and western Massachusetts communities; rain and wind damaging infrastructure throughout Vermont; and Super Storm Sandy hitting our neighbors to the south and just glancing by us. Harsher weather and climate change are understood as going hand in hand by most scientists who model atmospheric activity.

Springfield MA June 1, 2011 Tornado Damage

"No Exit"

Craig explained that there are three interests that can be often be competing with one another and represented them as the apexes of an ENERGY STRESS TRIANGLE.

Policy makers often find energy solutions that can relieve stress on two of the points, but increase stress on the third. Energy efficiency is one of the few things that relieves stress on the rate payer, energy grid, and the environment.

Energy Efficiency addresses all three!

Environment, Energy Grid, Rate Payer

There is hope – and there needs to be a lot of action to go with the hope. 40% of US energy consumption is in buildings.

Here is a look at how far Green Certified Homes have come in less than a decade:

How do we make this growth even more effective? We need all the parts of the tree…

At the “above the tree tops” level, 2013 made some significant progress. The NAR (National Association of Realtors) supported “Green MLS Implementation Guide” and the Appraisal Practices Board’s “Valuation of Green Buildings: Background and Core Competency” are just a few specific examples.

Article 11 NAR Code of Ethics

Realtors® shall not undertake to provide specialized professional services concerning a type of property or service that is outside their field of competence unless they engage the assistance of one who is competent on such types of property or service, or unless the facts are fully disclosed to the client. Any persons engaged to provide such assistance shall be so identified to the client and their contribution to the assignment should be set forth. 

Work is being done to get green-certified homes language in to Article 11

“Market conditions suggest that green homes will continue to grow in market share in the next five years. We expect a five-fold increase between 2011-2016 to comprise 29%-38% market share – potentially a $87-$114 billion opportunity. This strong growth of green suggests that builders who are not knowledgeable in green home building will be left behind.” 

• McGraw Hill Construction, Bedford, MA “New and Remodeled Green Homes: Transforming the Residential Marketplace”

Green Certifications for Homes – Getting the product to the market with a Green MLS

Realtors working with a Green MLS are asked to input information below:

Unfortunately many realtors do not yet understand green - energy terminology. They often misinterpret what is being asked for.

The Results: Under-reporting of green data

• Listing agents and brokers potentially under-reported 60% of Energy Star home sales in 2013.

• It is likely that 48% of LEED certified condominiums were under-reported in MLS PIN Massachusetts sales in 2013.

• For every one green certified sf homes sold in 2013, 1.5 did not use MLS PIN green certifications correctly

• The evidence suggests that listing agents may have under-reported green condominium sales by a ratio of nearly 2 to 1 in Massachusetts in 2013.

• For new construction condos, the ratio of under-reporting was 3.5 condo sales for every 1 whose listing agent correctly used MLS PIN’s data entry.

Why does accurate reporting matter?

Under reporting of green-certified homes slows progress towards market transformation:
  • Buyers are looking for green-certified properties and can’t find them.
  • Sellers marketing green-certified properties can’t distinguish them from the crowd.
  • Appraisers valuing green-certified properties are not aware that a home has green features.
  • Home sales are affected at the state, regional, and national levels

Change is in the air. Realtors and appraisers are being taught how to value green-certified homes. New rules are just now coming into effect that require expertise in green certified homes that effect realtors and appraisers.

The University of North Carolina reports that owners of ENERGY STAR Homes are 32% less likely to default on their mortgages than owners of similar homes that are not ENERGY STAR. FHA 203k rehabilitation loans have become available for energy efficiency upgrades to homes.

Energy Efficient Mortgage products are making a comeback.

The SAVE Act of 2013 is being re-worked on to be brought up for consideration in 2014. The SAVE Act, which offers a voluntary energy efficiency evaluation as part of the mortgage underwriting process, would help consumers and lenders better evaluate the true value of residences.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Picking up the PACE (and Resiliency) Financing in MA

Every few months, we find an opportunity to push for some legislation which we believe will enhance the prospects of our stakeholders in the green building industry. Yesterday, we were called upon to support PACE finance reform in Massachusetts. You can read more about PACE (property-assessed clean energy) at our PACE Advocacy page here.

On March 11th, I went to the Statehouse to make some noise in support of S.177, introduced by Sen. Brian A. Joyce (Milton), which will help make available private funds for renewables, efficiency and resiliency projects in the State.

I met up with Emily Kowtoniuk, from Sen. Joyce's office, who has been steering the outreach from his office to the grassroots such as USGBC MA Chapter. We walked all over the place, eventually descending to B-1, Basement Hearing Room One.

It was also Clean Energy Day at the Statehouse, and the place was packed with renewable and clean energy fans. The Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy would hear about PACE, Net Metering, and broadband.

With me was David Straus, Director of Development and Programs at A Better City - one of our advocacy partners based in Boston. David is also on the USGBC MA Chapter Board of Directors and all-around sustainability all star. I always learn a lot from David as his specialty is in transportation planning. That is one thing I experience but have never actually studied. We also have an overlapping interest in Latvia and the traditional village model of sustainability and resiliency, but that is another story.

We spent a little while waiting for our turn to address the Joint Committee. Senator Joyce was actually able to claim the first speaking slot to introduce S.177 to the committee and urge its movement through the legislative grist mill and towards a vote. As he said, there really isn't any opposition to this bill - it will enable private lenders to put money into a secure investment which will result in improved energy performance, environmental responsibility and resilience for our building stock in Massachusetts.

Thank you Senator Joyce for your leadership on PACE finance reform! We were proud to work with you and other allies to exhort the Joint Committee, and especially their Chairs - Sen. Downing and Rep. Keenan - to work hard for passage of these reforms. You can read our letter of endorsement here - and feel free to copy and past for your own editing, and send to the legislators above.

The hearing had multiple topics but was dominated by supporters of net metering reform - to increase the amounts of energy eligible to be sold by a renewable electricity generating project (mostly solar PV) to the grid. Installers and entities wanting to install PV are facing financial model trouble as the benefit that can be calculated into the project pro-forma from net metering income is disappearing. Utilities in MA are reaching the maximum 3% of net-metering-sourced generation, after which they don't have to pay so much for what you pump into the grid.

State Sen. Petrucelli and Rep. Smizik want to do away with that 3% cap and let the solar installers continue their boomtimes. National Grid and other utilities are not at all happy about this, describing an injustice where ratepayers who don't have renewables using net metering becoming responsible for a larger and larger share of the grid maintenance costs that net-metered entities skip because they are selling into the grid and not being assessed a portion of a purchase from the grid which would pay for those grid costs. Pardon me for the convoluted explanation of this situation, but I did learn a lot about it in the hearing. You can read more about the situation in this article at the Boston Business Journal.

We encountered a few Chapter Members at the hearing including Darien Crimmin (above right), VP of Energy & Sustainability at Winn Development, who took the stand for the continued growth of net metering. It was great to see a vibrant room full of renewable energy and resiliency advocates! Nice work green building pros!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Member Spotlight: Conor McGuire

Conor is one of our Board of Directors at the MA chapter. Here's some insight to the Man who has the Plan. And eats his Veggies too!

1.What is your current job and how does it differ from past jobs in sustainability?
I am the Director of Sustainability at Columbia Construction Company. I make sure all of our projects' construction sustainability goals meet or exceed the architect's or owner's projections. I work very closely with the project team and Columbia's PMs and superintendents to understand and implement project goals. I've been involved in sustainable design & construction for the past 7 years but the biggest change since joining Columbia is that here I spend 100% of my time on this work. My previous companies did not do the volume of green building work that necessitated full time management.

2. When did you firs become interested in Sustainability?
My undegrad degree is in Mechanical Engineering from Northeastern Univ. Engineering is all about two things: 1) how things work and 2) how to make things work better. Right when I got into the construction industry I was eager to figure out how to build it better. After a few years that desire to build it better inevitably led me into green building.

3. Why are you a member of the MA chapter and how did you get there?
My interest in the USGBC predates the formation of the MA Chapter. I was very appreciative of the Green Roundtable and Nexus Resource Center and their eventual affiliation with the USGBC. Those organizations evolved into other entities and now the MA Chapter fulfills many community aspects they provided. The LEED prep study groups, networking events, learning and leaning on each other through the growing pains the USGBC and LEED have gone through. I can't imagine how different things would be for me personally and professionally without the people of the MA Chapter. Many of the things we're trying to do involve battles with nay-sayers and cynics. The MA Chapter reminds me that I am not crazy and all this stuff is really possible, practical, beneficial and necessary. Plus the people of the Chapter are a ton of fun and like to network over a cold drink which suits me fine.

4. How are you an environmental steward?
In addition to declaring 100% of my professional life to sustainability, this could be a big list. So I'll just touch on a few things. I am working with a group in the city I live in, Melrose, to get bike lanes painted. In Melrose we have 3 commuter rail stations and is also very close to the Oak Grove T stop (in Malden). Getting bike safety on the correct streets can have an impact on carbon emissions and the health of the city. A lot of people think that somebody should "do something" and they are right. That somebody is You. Get into your communities and identify and address the needs there. Another sphere of environmental stewardship is food. Too many people think that vegetarianism or vegan means a 100% commitment 24/7. For the past few years my family has been "home vegans". We don't grocery shop meat or dairy. But since I like meat too much to give it up entirely, if I dine out, I order meat if I feel like it. Since most of my meals are from home, our overall meat consumption is way down. Not only is it good for the planet, my doctor is happy about the results too!

5. How do you help raise environmental awareness?
Through my work and professional and civic volunteering (Melrose Pedestrian and Bike Safety Advisory Committee) and only answering questions about food when asked!

6. If I needed to find you on a Saturday afternoon where would it be?
Depending on the week, probably at home with my wife playing with our young son. Enjoying the northern New England Outdoors or day tripping around Boston enjoying the city.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

LEED Version 4 is Really Cool (BE14 Workshop Report)

The USGBC MA had a trio of LEED Champions present a full-day workshop on the v4 update to LEED on 3/4/14. NESEA hosted our workshop at Building Energy 14 (BE14 - the biggest green building-oriented conference in the northeast which comes through Boston each year in March).

Thank you to Chris Schaffner (The Green Engineer), Andrea Love (Payette), and Jim Newman (Linnean Solutions) for facilitating the workshop.

We had about 25 green building professionals come out to take the deep dive into the LEED rating system. We heard about how LEED has been evolving over the past 15 years and how LEED is a flexible system - originally designed to accommodate periodic updates and capable of responding to changing market conditions and realities. People asked a lot of questions throughout the day, deepening the experience and getting into the nitty-gritty based on real project experience.

 The facilitators also guided the attendees through a sequence of exercises to explore the changes in the v4 system. This included looking at environmental product declarations and the old "how to hold a charette" - a charette on charettes as it were - as smaller break-out groups. Much of the afternoon portion was spent looking at the specific changes in each of the credit categories - what has shifted, what has a new name, what has been eliminated. The focus was on how the system is evolving to require better performance in buildings.

The group of attendees was really quite an interesting crowd - with representatives from small practices to major firms from across the entire state. Many already knew each other from previous project experience. All made new connections.

Stay tuned to the USGBC MA Chapter for more opportunities to maintain your LEED AP credentials and stay connected to your most interesting and gregarious green building pros!