Last week I posted a few photos from a camp spot on Taylor River en route to Tofino, BC for three days of sea kayaking in Clayoquot Sound (photos to come). Post-kayaking we headed north to Campbell River to go hiking and visit some people we know, but along the way I saw a sign that reminded me of an experience I had as a kid. I insisted that we briefly veer off-route and follow the sign to the small community of Coombs where they have an old country market with goats living on its roof.
It has since dawned on me that the building was probably my first introduction to a green roof, long before sustainability and green buildings had ever entered my mind. Anyway, it was cool to return there the other day and see two goats resolutely munching away on the roof top grasses. It’s worth a stop for a visit if you are ever up in the area. The giant ice cream cones they have for sale there aren’t bad either! Ahh, summer!
Update: Sommer (Walk With Me a While) wrote me a note to say that there’s a building with goats living on the roof in North Carolina, USA. She passed it a few years ago while heading to hike the Appalachian Trail. Definitely good info to know if you’re living or traveling in North Carolina! Thanks, Sommer! ;)
The most important of these trends is a multi-decade shift from fossil fuels to carbon-free energy. The shift will accelerate as oil becomes harder to produce and climate change worsens. Once climate change really starts affecting people’s lives – when it cuts world grain production, for instance – people will demand action. The action will come in the form of regulations and taxes that raise the price of carbon fuels.
The shift to carbon-free energy will be akin to what economists call a “general purpose technology” transition. The modern world has seen half a dozen or so transitions in the past 200 years, including those following the introduction of railways, electricity, the internal combustion engine and the computer microchip. Each produced staggering economic upheaval: companies, jobs and whole industries vanished, while new ones exploded onto the scene. These were periods of startling innovation, rapid economic growth and enormous opportunity for entrepreneurial individuals and communities.
The coming energy shift will dwarf all these earlier transitions combined. It won’t arise from just one disruptive technology but from an integrated suite of many, such as advanced batteries, building reskinning, smart grids, cheap super-thin photovoltaic materials, ultra-deep geothermal power, and perhaps thorium nuclear power. It will spur the invention and delivery of a torrent of new technologies, goods and services in every sector of the global economy.
Three paragraphs from Thomas Homer-Dixon’s recent article in the Globe & Mail, ‘All’s not lost, Ontario. The future is green, not black’. Homer-Dixon is the director of the Waterloo Institute for Complexity and Innovation and the author of a number of books including, ‘Carbon Shift: How the Twin Crises of Oil Depletion and Climate Change Will Define the Future’, ‘The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilization’, and ‘The Ingenuity Gap’. You can watch, listen and read about his work here.
Since retrofitting buildings to make them sustainable is both more expensive and less effective than building them right in the first place, we create 50- to 100-year consequences when we construct buildings without consideration for sustainability.
Such buildings are leading sources of greenhouse gases, guzzle up our natural resources and are expensive to maintain for their century-or-so-long lifespan. The encouraging news is that many of these 100-year consequences are avoidable. Next-generation green buildings can be built now with mostly off-the-shelf technology at a cost similar to equivalent conventional buildings over their life cycles (in other words, higher construction costs are offset by lower operating and capital renewal costs). The University of British Columbia’s new Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) is one such example.
CIRS captures energy from the sun, the ground and a neighbouring, less-efficient building. In doing so, it not only covers its own heating requirements, but returns energy to the less-efficient building, thus reducing the campus’ natural gas consumption. Its wood structure — much of which utilizes pine beetle-affected wood from B.C. and Alberta — sequesters more than 600 tonnes of carbon and offsets greenhouse gas emissions from other non-renewable materials used in the building’s construction. It satisfies its own water needs by collecting Vancouver’s abundant rainwater and treats it on-site, leaving it cleaner.
Why are such best practices, increasingly adopted in Europe, still not universally adopted by developers and construction companies in North America? The barriers are not technical and rarely are they purely economic. Rather, they are institutional: codes of practice, regulatory requirements, performance criteria, even job descriptions push us toward less sustainable choices. To give one example, it is very difficult institutionally to transfer the benefits of lower operating and capital renewal costs from the operating side of the ledger to the capital side. As a result, sustainable buildings that have higher capital costs but actually cost less on a total cost of ownership basis are typically not built.
Technology being commercialized in British Columbia aims to transform building interiors — providing practical, affordable illumination by harnessing the natural light of the sun. It’s light that will be brighter, more attractive, less expensive and more sustainable than electric light, according to Tony Formby.
Mr. Formby is president of SunCentral Inc., a company developing technology based on breakthroughs made by University of British Columbia physics professor Lorne Whitehead. That technology uses computerized collector panels located on the sun-facing exterior walls of buildings to gather and concentrate sunlight, which is transported and dispersed inside the building by special light guides.
Ever since the invention of the skyscraper, the contest between cities to see who could be home to the tallest building has had a symbolic potency on par with the space race. Now two of America’s “greenest” cities are engaged in a whole new sort of architectural cage match, and in the process they’re inverting the dated priorities of the profligate, fossil-fuel soaked 20th century and instead designing buildings based on the harmonious functioning of ecosystems.
Within weeks of each other, groups in both Seattle and Oregon announced that they were building the world’s “greenest” office building. These structures go way beyond the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Gold standard, aiming instead for the much more stringent and results-oriented Living Building Standard.
The defining feature of the Living Building standard is that, true to its name, a building must behave like a living organism. And not just a wasteful, unsustainable individual, but an entire, self-contained ecosystem. A Living Building must produce all of the electricity it uses, and collect 100 percent of the water it consumes. Both requirements mean that a living building must be extremely efficient with both energy and water in addition to being especially good at collecting both.
So far only three buildings in the world have attained Living Building certification, in part because a structure’s performance must be measured for a full year to establish its bona fides. So it will be some time until we know whether—and by what measure—Seattle or Oregon is home to the “world’s greenest building.”
Check out the details of each building and the rest of the article here.
Speaking at Greenbuild 2011 in Toronto, Author and New York Times Columnist Tom Friedman talks about the period of 2008 and 2011 for climate and clean energy issues. This speech has been heavily edited for length. (We used 8 minutes from a 30 minute speech.)
You can read more about Friedman’s speech here and here.
The world’s first “vertical street” will soon be built in Melbourne, Australia.
Every sixth floor of the 35-storey building will have gardens capable of growing trees up to 10 metres tall and the entire building will be boasting the very latest in green technology.
While roof gardens and landscaped balconies have been constructed in the past, project architect Robert Caulfield of CK Designworks, Melbourne, says this is the first time that five high-rise communal gardens have been attempted in the same building.
To achieve this feat, purpose-built planter boxes allowing tree roots to grow in the confined 120-square-metre gardens, and structural supports that hold the weight of the soil and trees will be used. Heat-reflective glass and solar-powered lighting will also be incorporated.
Since the site is a mere 360 square metres, the building’s external walls - more than 8000 square metres - will be used to catch rainwater. “This is unusual,” says Caulfield. Normally strong winds “just blow the rain off the building”.
But, in this development, triangular balconies and a jagged façade are used to reduce the sideways movement of the wind, minimising the water escaping from the side. The catchment will feed into the building’s water supply to be used for garden watering and toilet flushing.
Doug Farr is a pivotal figure in sustainability today, leading and practicing at the crossroads of urbanism and green building. His firm, Farr Associates, holds the global distinction of being the first and only firm to design three LEED Platinum buildings. At the same time, he has served as Chair of the LEED Neighborhood Development Core Committee, leading the development of sustainable performance metrics for urban development.
This evening, Farr is going to talk about integrating sustainable urbanism and agriculture on the urban edge. Having evaluated the sustainability of East Fraserlands, a project along Vancouver’s river edge planned by DPZ, Farr has been commissioned by Century Group (this evening’s sponsor) to consider opportunities for sustainable solutions at the suburban/rural edge in the Southlands of Tsawwassen. For those who care about the future of this region, this is a must-hear lecture.