Category Archives: green building

‘Fifth Fuel’ Creates Jobs

According to the newly released Clean Tech Job Trends 2009 report issued by research firm Clean Edge, energy efficiency provides the most bang (i.e., jobs) for your buck. The report attributes stimulus dollars and increased recognition by companies, utilities, and governments that energy efficiency is a cost effective method for dealing with volatile energy prices in helping drive the job growth. Efficiency is referred to as the fifth fuel after coal, natural gas, nuclear, and renewables.

The report cites statistics from the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI)—an independent unit of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst—indicating that building retrofits related to energy efficiency create seven direct jobs per million dollars invested. For comparison purposes, wind and solar create 4.3 and 5.4 direct jobs, respectively, per million dollars. According to the PERI researchers, investments in clean energy will generate roughly three times more jobs than spending the same amount of money within our fossil fuel energy infrastructure.

Clean Edge identifies key sectors in which clean-tech jobs are now emerging including energy, transportation, water, and (building) materials. It also identifies the top 15 U.S. metro areas for clean-tech job activity with San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, CA coming in at the top.

The jobs report is available for download on the Clean Edge website. Forbes also prepared a special report on the untapped potential of energy efficiency in July 2008.

On October 19, Vice President Biden unveiled Recovery Through Retrofit, a report detailing the results of a multi-agency initiative to examine how best to create a self-sustaining home energy efficiency retrofit industry. The report identifies a series of barriers including a lack of access to information, financing, and skilled workers.

Zero Net Energy Policies

Similar to many states, California is addressing climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with energy production and use. The state’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (i.e., Assembly Bill 32) established the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. One approach to meeting this climate change goal is by specifying the loading order for electricity resources. In short, that means that the state will meet new electricity needs first with energy efficiency and demand response and second with new generation from renewable energy and distributed generation resources.

Chartwell School

Zero Net Energy Chartwell School located in Seaside, CA

The state’s Air Resources Board calls for energy efficiency measures that would reduce electricity demand by 32,000 GWhs. These measures would in turn reduce CO2 emissions by 19.5 million metric tons by 2020. Energy efficiency measures don’t always mean sitting in a cold, dark house trying to do your part to slow down climate change.

California is examining building and appliance efficiency standards. While the state already has the lowest per capital electricity use in the US, and one that has remained stable for over 30 years, maintaining business as usual is not enough to meet carbon reduction goals.

Increasing efficiency standards for buildings and combining with onsite generation results in newly constructed buildings with the potential for zero net energy by 2020 for residences and 2030 for commercial buildings.

Making zero net energy buildings a reality will require close cooperation among various state agencies, local governments, utilities, and industry players. Similar to other approaches such as waste reduction, California should set clear standards and then help remove obstacles to implementation. Only then will the state achieve its goal of buildings that produce all of their own power.

Additional detail on California’s energy policies can be found in the California Energy Commission’s 2009 Integrated Energy Policy Report (pdf)

Communicate to the Converted

Success usually brings critics out of the woodwork (hopefully FSC-certified wood). When that happens, it's important that companies and organizations don't forget about their base of support. Clear and proactive communication to those 'already in your camp' is vital so that they 'stay in your camp'. More importantly, if these supporters know the facts they are able to intelligently address others' concerns. As the saying goes, they'll tell two friends, and they'll tell two friends, and so on.  

A good example of communicating to the converted is Rick Fedrizzi's correspondence to USGBC members about recent criticism. USGBC and its LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design) program are slowly changing standard practice in the building industry. There are those such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute that have launched anti-LEED campaigns. An article entitled Green Building Racket? appeared on www.junkscience.com, an outlet for the Institute's agenda. The article alleges that the primary motivation behind LEED is the exorbitant fees USGBC charges developers seeking to market their buildings as LEED certified.

An article is also appearing in the October 2007 edition of Fast Company magazine that "exposes some serious cracks in the world's biggest green-building brand." You can agree or disagree; that's not the point. 

The point is that as LEED becomes more successful, opponents will find fault. USGBC is doing a good job keeping its core believers (aka members) updated as to why the articles are off the mark.  

 

Tangible Communications

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For the last 6 months, the green building community has been hearing about the mkLotus modular home; it's a one-bedroom prefab constructed in San Francisco's Civic Center plaza as part of West Coast Green. Actually, it was built offsite in a factory, which is supposed to reduce construction waste (50-70%), reduce construction time, and increase quality. The steady drumbeat of "it's green, it's modern, it's cool" has increased expectations; although the pervasive computer renderings have left something to be desired. But after taking a tour (see photos here), I think the designer has delivered on her promise to create a healthy, sustainable house that 'provides a sense of tranquility'. It's a tangible form of communication that enables others (green building veterans and newbies alike) to touch, feel, experience the green possibilities.

Keep in mind that everyone learns in different ways. While it's important to tell a good story, sometimes you need to be quiet and let it (your product or service) do the talking for you.

See all mkLotus photos on Flickr here.

The Rebirth of the Press Release

In 2006, the press release celebrated it's 100 year anniversary — not that too many people took notice. Since then, there has been a lot of talk in the high tech pr industry about the 'death of the traditional press release' and the emergence of the social media release (aka new media release). The best way to understand a social media release is to see an example. A pr company in Silicon Valley developed a template to get the discussions flowing. 

The social media release essentially takes the information contained in a release and distills it into usable chunks. Think of it as a bulleted version of a press release with lots of tools (RSS, social bookmarking, tags, etc) that enable the reader to see who else on the web is talking about the news. It strips away the fluff, leaving the editors to place the 'news' in to a larger context. 

According to Don Bates in To Inform and Persuade: Public Relations from the Dawn of Civilization, Ohio Bell Telephone discovered in the late 1800s that if it handed out 'canned' news in the form of a press release, reporters would stop going to telephone rate hearings and asking pesky questions.

Is the same thing happening today in the green building movement? If a manufacturer calls its product green, is it so? Does having a LEED AP on staff make an architectural firm a green building consultant? Hyperbole is confusing the green marketplace. Perhaps the social media release has a place in the green building world. Who wants to try?

Is Green Building the Next dot.com?

"One of the most exciting things that has changed in the last 12 months has been the customer pull for green products," said Nancy Floyd, the co-founder and managing director at Nth Power, an investment firm.

According to an AP article in Forbes, venture capitalists and other funders interested in clean technology are finding a home for their investments in environmentally sustainable construction materials and processes. Companies mentioned in the article include:

  • Hycrete Inc. - a water-resistant concrete admixture that improves the durability of poured concrete.
  • Apex Construction Systems Inc. – a material and construction process to replace existing methods of building exterior structural walls for homes and commercial properties.
  • Grancrete – a quick-drying, non-toxic building material that can replace cement in the construction of low-cost housing.

There are hundreds of building products available today that have environmental benefits (and investment potential). Alex Wilson of BuildingGreen gave an interesting talk called 15 Years of Green Building Products: Observations, Trends, and Future Opportunities at West Coast Green in September 2006. He talked about a range of products including those that were once considered green but have since fallen out of favor to those great green products developed by poorly managed companies to up-and-coming green products. Check out BuildingGreen's list of 2006 Top-10 Green Building Products. 

Development of new green building products will spur further adoption of green building practices, which in turn will make 'green' building practices 'standard' building practices. Green building rating systems will need to be revised upward (like the Living Building Challenge) to account for increasingly green buildings. Progress before our very eyes. 

 

Is there a Wiki in your future?

Quick…What's a wiki? A wiki is "a type of website that allows the visitors themselves to easily add, remove, and otherwise edit and change some available content, sometimes without the need for registration." The most visible wiki is, of course, Wikipedia

 

What's the relevance to public relations? The goal of public relations is to foster relationships with others, especially those that can affect (positively or negatively) your business, organization, etc. The desired action may be sharing information or changing behavior. Wikis allow relationship building by engaging stakeholders and fostering collaboration.

 

Think about whether a wiki makes sense for your business, organization, or initiative. I'll cite two examples of wikis in action: the Pharos Project and the NewPR/Wiki

 

In short, the Pharos Project aims to provide information about building materials and their environmental and social impacts. The PharosWiki is a "virtual commons … inviting the building material user community to discuss green materials." According to the website, it's designed to build a community comprised primarily of those using building materials to discuss, share, learn and build a common framework for evaluating and improving the health, environment, and social impact of the materals we use. Healthy Building Network, one of the primary organizers, says that it is committed to engaging many users in helping to develop Pharos in an ongoing, iterative way. Sounds like the essence of managing relations with one's publics. 

 

The NewPRWiki, on the other hand, is intended as a virtual watercooler where practicing PR professionals can collaborate. It's billed as:

  • a repository of relevant information about how the PR practice is changing
  • a collaboration tool for PR professionals and people interested in the practice of public relations
  • an open space where anyone can ask questions, post ideas, or start a project.

 

Two notable projects include the social media release and the anti-astroturfing campaign. The NewPRWiki is advancing the practice of public relations in the age of technology.

 

 

 

Is Green the New Pink (Ribbon)?

12/13/06 UPDATE: Wal-Mart named to One Degree Hot List, a list of the top 10 people/organizations who in 2006 most influenced climate policy, science and public opinion.

 

 

 

Wal-Mart was named the "most socially responsible company" according to a poll of more than 30,000 consumers from 25 countries conducted by The Reputation Institute, and reported in Forbes. But how, since Wal-Mart has taken a beating for paying low wages, withholding healthcare benefits, and disrupting small, local businesses.  

 

More recently, stories have aired describing Wal-Mart's various sustainability initiatives including reducing packaging, supplying organic items, and testing some model green stores. Are the sustainability initiatives strategic business decisions to reduce operating costs and increase customer loyalty or are they public relations initiatives designed to deflect criticism away from Wal-Mart's social issues?

 

But if you want to improve your company reputation, don't you use pink? Everything from bowling to vacuums to tools, is now supporting breast cancer awareness and treatment. Are there any companies against it? It's easy to slap a pink ribbon on your packaging and join the cause. Hence the name…cause marketing. It's so overused, there's even a pink ribbon watchdog group.

 

Although green building and sustainability are hot topics, green ribbons are not available. So we must remain vigilant on the green front. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, "sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

 

P.S. If you hadn't heard, the Walmarting Across America blog was a ruse set up by Wal-Mart's PR firm Edelman. Oops, they got caught. It perpetuated the term 'flog' or 'fake blog'

 

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Unsustainable Sustainability?

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Is the sustainability movement becoming unsustainable? According to the Leonardo Academy, GreenBuild 2006 was responsible for the following emissions:

  • Carbon Dioxide = 13,269,500 lbs
  • Sulfur Dioxide = 5,100 lbs
  • Nitrogen Oxide = 17,900 lbs
  • Particulates (PM10) = 2,800 lbs
  • Mercury = 0.0389 lbs

While several companies (and individuals such as myself) donated/purchased emission reduction offsets through the Leanardo Academy's Cleaner and Greener Program, do those actions mitigate the full effects of 13,000 assembling in one location to talk about sustainability? Attendance for GreenBuild 2007 is expected to be more than 25,000! Do the benefits outweigh the environmental costs?