Saturday, November 28, 2009

Will The International Living Building Institute Become a Bigger Green Rock Star Than the U.S. Green Building Council ?

Living Building Challenge 2.0 Certification Plays Lady Ga Ga to USGBC LEED's Madonna

by Paul McGinniss

If USGBC was a rock star, we could call it the "Madonna of Green Building". Past struggling from its "Desperately Seeking Sustainability Susan" days, the USGBC has gone from a small, off beat gathering of people who stood out to people who stand together in unison at stadium sized events.

Madonna in her early days in the hit Indy film "Desperately Seeking Susan"

Greenbuild, USGBC's annual, green, eco-networking love fest, opened in Phoenix, Arizona this past November, 2009 with mega greenie Al Gore as keynote speaker at a ceremony that closed with a pop concert featuring Sheryl Crow. Tens of thousands of green groupies flew en masse to celebrate the yearly event which has a frenzy more akin to a concert attended by die hard fans than a trade show filled with people just doing their jobs.

Well, watch out USGBC, because if The International Living Building Institute was a musical performer, it could very well become the new Lady Ga Ga of the green building world - that is make older established stars seem a tad out of date. The mandatory zero-net-energy and carbon-neutral building attributes required to become certified under The Institute's "Living Building Challenge 2.0 Certification" program pushes the envelope of green building standards so far past LEED that it opens up a whole new (and needed) look for the next gen green building movement.

The "Living Building Challenge 2.0 Certification" is subtitled "A Visionary Path to a Restorative Future." And, visionary it is. While technically quite specific above and beyond LEED, the program is also refreshingly philosophical. There are sections on "Beauty and Spirit" and stipulates that "the project must contain design features intended solely for human delight and the celebration of culture, spirit and place appropriate to its function." Other sections of the certification program are almost manifesto-like, particularly the section on "Democracy and Social Justice."

Image above from International Living Building Institute web site. The program sets its standards sky high and is set to expand internationally.

Technical standards mandatory to receive certification include:

*That certified buildings generate 100% of all energy needed on site with renewable energy on a net annual basis.

*The construction carbon footprint must be carbon neutral.

*The structure must capture or reclaim more water than is used by inhabitants.

*That all projects integrate opportunities for agriculture and have mandatory agricultural allowances based on the floor area ratio of the project.

Naturally, there are cost issues associated with building to such high standards. Hopefully, the Living Building Challenge will lay the groundwork for implementing this kind of building as standard practice and help bring costs down via improved building methods and technology. For a great article about this issue click on this link to the web post on The Daily Green from the editors of E/The Environmental Magazine.

Being an inhabitant of the Hudson Valley of New York, I was happy to hear that The Omega Center for Sustainable Living, upstate in Dutchess County, New York, is one of the first buildings ever to be built under the guidelines of the Living Buildings Challenge program. This Omega Center building is on track to become the first green building to achieve both LEED Platinum and the Living Building Challenge certification.

Omega Center for Sustainable Living, which includes a natural waste water treatment facility that captures waste water and uses it in four constructed wetlands

The building uses solar PV and geothermal systems to be net-zero energy. The waste water treatment facility includes an Eco Machine that captures waste water that is purified with plants, fish and microorganisms. Eventually, Omega hopes to recycle the waste water and use it to irrigate gardens, flush toilets and maintain outdoor gardens.

Click here for detailed info about Living Building Challenge 2.0 Certification Challenge.

You can see more about the Omega Center For Sustainable living here.

And, PLEASE check out Lady Ga Ga's new music video below. Like zero-net energy, carbon-neutral, self-sustaining buildings that grow their own food, it's new, it's futuristically hot, groundbreaking fun and makes a wall flower like me want to get on top of a solar panel, eat an heirloom tomato and dance like there's no tomorrow.

Copyright 2009 Paul McGinniss

Friday, November 20, 2009

Cool Picks: Mind Expanding Finds on the Web About the Future Metropolis

Some Recent Inspiring Finds From Web Surfing Expeditions

by Paul McGinniss

Image "Aqualta: Times Square at Night, NYC," from NYC architecture firm Studio Lindfors

When I saw the Blade Runner meets Jetson Green meets Monet water lily image of a futuristic Times Square, NYC depicted above on Alex Aylett's Blog openalex, I thought - wow - we share the same taste. Not that Alex or myself particularly want to live in a flooded metropolis. But, how cool are these dreamy, wonderful, devilishly playful images from NYC architect Studio Lindfors?

Image: "Aqualta: Shibuya Station, Tokyo," by Studio Lindfors

Despite the nod to problematic sea levels rising, the images made me feel hopeful, if only because I found out I am not the only one particularly fascinated (obsessed) with futuristic floods and other things now thought abnormal, yet potentially soon to be normal, headed our way, like a Segway, which at first seemed oddly futuristic, but now seems, somehow, oddly quaint.

Image "Aqualta: W. 29th Street & Broadway, NYC" by NYC Architect Studio Lindfors.

Alex says his blog is "for news and views on the future of sustainable cites." You can also find his writings on urban redesign and sustainability in ReNew Canada worldchanging.

Here's a link to Alex Aylett's full post about Studio Lindfors images of flooded New York and Tokyo streets:

Images of A Flooded City : NYC & Tokyo

Here's a link to Studio Lindfors.

If you want to see some of my musings about floods and the architecture of the future, see this blog's summer 2009 post: Water World Here We Come

The openalex blog also had a totally cool post about a guy named DJ/Rupture in New York who does a sort of eerie trance music for people who might have a tendency to be high on E (the Environment). Check it out:

Electro-dub-ocalypse: fishing in NYC with DJ /Rupture

Check out the animated music video from DJ/Rupture's new album Solar Life Raft:

Article Copyright 2009 Paul McGinniss

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

New State Financing Program in New York Will Make Buying Renewable Energy Systems Easier

New York Joins 14 Other States Which Now Authorize Municipalities to Offer Low Cost Financing to Help Property Owners Pay for Energy Efficiency Improvements & Renewable Energy Systems

by Paul McGinniss

Finally, our prayers for wide-spread availability of "green loans" have been heard.

The New York State Legislature's recent passing of the PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) municipal loan program legislation is good news for all of us who are still waiting for the banking and appraising industries to finally get their acts together and begin to offer green loans and appraisals that take energy efficiency into account as part of their standard operating procedure.

It's great news for energy efficiency contractors, renewable energy system installers and companies selling clean energy systems. And, there will be great benefit as well for property owners who can now more easily make energy efficiency improvements and buy renewable energy systems with no money out of pocket, at all, whatsoever.

This news is a far cry from the doomsday-like report in the Febraury, 2009 article in the "New York Times" called Dark Days for Green Energy which stated: "...Because of the credit crisis and the broader economic downturn.....installation of wind and solar power is plummeting."

Representative Steve Israel (NY 2nd District) recently commented regarding this important PACE program, "I am thankful that Governor Paterson and the State Legislature see the potential for PACE programs in New York and I look forward to working with our local communities to launch PACE bond pilot programs across New York."

Based on a financing model originated in the city of Berkeley, California, PACE programs eliminate the upfront cost for energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy systems. Both residential and commercial property owners are allowed to pay for these upgrades with cash borrowed from funds raised by selling low-interest bonds to investors. A PACE bond or lien is a debt instrument whereby the proceeds are lent to commercial and residential property owners to finance energy retrofits (efficiency measures and small renewable energy systems). They repay their loans over 15-20 years via an annual assessment on their property tax bill.

Solar Install in Berkeley, California

For most energy retrofit projects completed with PACE financing, property owners can expect to realize an immediate energy savings of 20 to 40 percent. PACE bonds finance a range of energy efficiency upgrades such as double insulated windows and the installation of clean energy technologies including solar PV panels, solar thermal systems and geothermal heat pumps.

“From Long Island to the Hudson Valley, Capital District, Southern Tier and Niagara Falls, PACE financing will enable solar energy projects to move forward without upfront costs and for property owners to make improvements that will pay off in energy cost savings,” said The New York Solar Energy Industries Association (NYSEIA) President Ron Kamen, senior vice president of EarthKind Solar in Kingston, New York.

Property owners who utilize PACE financing will benefit over time with real cash savings. The long term repayment mechanism results in annual energy savings that exceed the increased annual property tax cost thus making PACE financing highly attractive to home and building owners. Lowering monthly costs due to energy saving also increases the property's overall value and increases the creditworthiness of the existing mortgage holder.

PACE bonds can be issued by municipal financing districts or finance companies. The payment plan for the property owner is transferable to the next property owner if the current owner decides to sell the property.

The great thing about the PACE loan program is that States and Municipalities authorizing PACE bonds not only create green jobs, but they have no added debt or credit risk. This is because PACE finance creates no credit or fiscal burden as the entire liability resides directly with those property owners who opt in to receiving PACE loans. It should not be a problem for municipalities to raise funds via PACE bonds as PACE bond holders/investors benefit from a very safe investment given that they are secured by long term tax liens that are senior in right to mortgage debt.

Photo of a group of workers with KPS Solar on Long Island. Kevin MacLeod of KPS in Bayshore, Long Island is Vice President of The New York Solar Energy Industries Association (NYSEIA)and represented the interests of the association to lawmakers who passed the PACE legislation.

PACE programs are a recent innovation in finance and have emerged nationwide over the past year during which time 15 states have passed enabling legislation. Current PACE-enabled states are: CA, CO, IL, LA, MD, NV, NM, NY, OH, OK, OR, TX, VT, VA, & WI. According to PACE Now, an independent coalition of PACE bond supporters, it is estimated that the potential for PACE bonds could exceed $500 billion nationally.

An additional benefit to the PACE legislation is that it allows municipalities to leverage federal funds in order to provide loans to commercial and residential property owners to finance energy efficiency retrofits and renewable energy systems. "New York State can now tap critical federal dollars to create much-needed jobs with PACE programs," said Jack D. Hidary, Chairman of Americans for Clean Energy and one of the leaders of the PACENOW coalition. He added, "PACE will put more people to work and will bring energy efficiency and solar to buildings across the state with loans that make it easy for owners to pay for this cost-reducing work."

“By passing the municipal sustainable energy loan program bill during the extraordinary session, we are putting New York municipalities in a position to compete for $454 million in federal stimulus funds,” U.S. Congressman from New York, Steve Israel said. “PACE programs will save home and business owners money, create new sustainable green jobs, bring clean energy companies to the State to compete for our business, and help wrench New York out of this painful recession.

Governor Paterson said about PACE: "Now, thanks to the leadership of President Obama and Congressman Israel (U.S. Representative Steve Israel NY 2nd District) the federal government is offering programs that encourage the use of PACE loan programs ... I want to thank the Legislature for recognizing this opportunity and for agreeing to pass this critical legislation."

One of the most progressive things about the PACE program is it makes the whole debate about the unavailability of "green loans" and energy efficient mortgages out of date. With funding from PACE bonds, homeowners are able to borrow money to make the necessary improvements to their homes without the hassle of finding a lender who is familiar with green lending principles. It also puts the concept of a green loan right where it should be by defining financing-worthy green home improvements as ones that result in concrete energy savings that reduce monthly cash overhead, thus being good for the bottom line while protecting the environment. is the advocacy and educational non-governmental organization for PACE finance. For more information about PACE finance go to

Copyright 2009 Paul McGinniss

If you want to become inspired to install some renewable energy systems, check out the AMAZING VIDEO below about the 2009 Solar Decathlon House designed by Team BeauSoleil from the University of New Orleans at Lafayette. This affordable, self-sufficient home can be elevated in flood prone areas, withstand hurricane force winds and is powered entirely by the sun!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Hudson Valley, N.Y. Green Real Estate Development Conference Sets Stage For Healthy Regional Growth

ScheinMedia's October 28th, 2009 Event at Tech City In Kingston, New York Heralds a Region-Wide Green Network That Will Play Major Role in Developing Hudson Valley Economy

By Paul McGinniss

On Right Jonathan Schein, President & CEO ScheinMedia with Allen Ginsburg, Owner & Chairman Tech City Properties

The first region-wide conference devoted to green real estate development in the Hudson Valley was held recently. From the reaction of attendees, speakers and panelists, it is sure to be the first of many annual green real estate development conferences produced by ScheinMedia.

ScheinMedia is parent company of Kingston-based "New York House" magazine. The monthly periodical is a widely-respected, real estate-focused publication founded in the Hudson Valley region and now covering the NYC Metropolitan area as well. It is distributed throughout the Hudson Valley and New York City.

The conference opened with a Keynote delivered by Ned Sullivan, President of Scenic Hudson--the largest environmental group in the Hudson Valley. It was apropos to have an environmental group lead off the conference which gathered a wide cross section of eco-minded attendees sensitive to finding the balance between growth and sustainability. The audience included real estate developers, builders, renewable energy companies, government officials, media and others from the entire Hudson Valley region--the Counties of Albany, Rockland, Orange, Sullivan, Putnam, Westchester, Greene, Ulster, Columbia and Delaware. The event will surely help further the crucial agenda of creating both sustainable communities and jobs in the Hudson Valley area.

The conference was held, appropriately, in Kingston at Tech City--a sprawling, 260 acre, office-industrial park with 2.5 million square feet of existing buildings. Tech City was once an important office and manufacturing base facility for IBM. When the corporation left Kingston in the 1990s, it left behind a facility burdened with inefficient design, set apart from the surrounding community and in an accelerated state of decline. Today, due to the valiant efforts of Allen Ginsburg and his team, Tech City is in the initial phase of a much needed and massive green face lift.

Gerald Schein & Susan Piperato, Editorial Director Schein Media

Tech City has generated plans that will essentially take what was a white elephant and establish a whole green neighborhood. Tech City says it "will create a mixed use eco-village that is a model for green development – a place where people can live, work and play – and a true showcase for the future of economic development." If realized, Tech City could become a model for adaptive reuse.

With all that is going on with green building and renewable energy, Tech City is at the right place at the right time. Tech City is already home to the Solar Energy Consortium (TSEC) - a group that has already secured millions in state and Federal funding to promote research, production and distribution of solar energy systems in New York State. Tech City is also home to some of the leading firms in solar technology including EarthKind Energy, Inc. The recent Solar Thermal Roadmap Symposium was also held recently at Tech City. This is yet another sign that committed regional players with vested interest in the area, groups like ScheinMedia, the TSEC, and the New York Solar Energy Industries Association, will be using Tech City for other events on a regular basis.

Some of the people I met at the conference were the folks from New World Home, makers of energy efficient modular green homes, green roof company
Semper Green
and Big Green Oil which sells heating oil comprised of 20% bio fuel made with locally sourced waste grease.

For a full list of attendees and detailed conference information click on this link to Schein Events.

Mark Jupiter, President Product Division, New World Home, LLC

The Hudson Valley Green Real Estate Development Conference is proof that green real estate development and local renewable energy production and installation will play a major role in the Hudson Valley economy. Like many less-developed areas near large urban centers, the Hudson Valley is struggling with the dual goals of preserving the natural beauty of the region while creating new jobs and a healthy economy. Conferences like this lay groundwork for a public-private dialogue that will help balance growth with preservation while retaining current businesses and residents in the region as new talent and investment is attracted to the local economy.

NOTE: Paul is a columnist and Green Advocate for "New York House" magazine which is part of ScheinMedia. He also writes sometimes for ScheinMedia's

Nancy Meyer (center), Editor New York House Magazine, Jonathan Schein (left), President & CEO ScheinMedia & Lance Matteson (right), President Ulster County Development Corporation

Copyright 2009 by Paul McGinniss

Friday, November 6, 2009

New Orleans as a Phoenix: From Disaster a City Grows Wings and Is Reborn

With A House That Floats, Zero Energy Neighborhoods & Whole Communities Designed With The Collaboration of Artists, New Orleans Could Become a Model of How to Take Tragedy and Turn it into a Down to Earth Jazzy Sci Fi Green Success Story Instead.
by Paul McGinniss

Image from St. Roch Art Walk project in New Orleans. Integrating an art walk into sustainable building is part of the redesign of the entire St. Roch neighborhood.

Everyone knows the horror that was Hurricane Katrina. It showed us how terribly unprepared many cities are for natural disasters. Reassuringly, many creative forces from all walks of life have come up with ways to not only rebuild a devastated city, but out fox future problems that Mother Nature might throw our way.

Einstein said: "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." In the same spirit as Einstein, three groups working in New Orleans are developing green building and design projects that demonstrate new, holistic, hi-tech thinking. People across the country have joined forces with inhabitants of New Orleans to not just rebuild what was lost, but to grow a new neighborhood dynamic that incorporates the old roots of a historic city into futuristic green growth.

The Faubourg St. Roch Project

Image is design for St. Roch neighborhood space amongst new green buildings and housing

New York-based Architect, Drew Lang, is one of the visionaries behind The Faubourg St. Roch project in New Orleans. A nine block neighborhood is being redesigned. Lang is the principal of Lang Architecture and is from New Orleans. He knows the city as an insider. Post Katrina, Drew initiated the Faubourg St. Roch Project which is meant to revitalize an entire neighborhood. His firm also designed a home that was selected as a finalist in the Global Green USA Sustainable Design Competition for New Orleans, co-sponsored by Brad Pitt and Global Green USA. (see info below about Global Green and Brad Pitt's Make it Right foundation)

The Faubourg St. Roch project mission states: "The Faubourg St. Roch Project is committed to a holistic revitalization of the St. Roch neighborhood in New Orleans. With community participation, new building, restoration, advanced environmental technology, through partnerships with other non-profit groups, with progressive energy policy work, and with spirited conviction, we will create a model and catalyst for neighborhood revitalization in New Orleans."

The Faubourg St. Roch Project operates in partnership with a dozen groups including the Arts Council of New Orleans and the Office of Recovery and Development Administration. They are working with residents, architects, artists and landscape designers to revitalize varied neighborhood components including historic homes, a cemetery, a market and a school.

Entrance to the historic St. Roch cemetery

Make it Right

Image of Float House which is a prototype for affordable, green housing that can be mass produced for flood-prone areas.

Brad Pitt's Make it Right Foundation is engaged in a variety of initiatives in New Orleans including greening schools and rebuilding the 9th ward of the city. One of the coolest things Make it Right spearheaded is the creation of the Float House which can fulfill its own water and power needs during emergencies and survive floodwaters as high as 12 feet. The house was designed and developed by Morphosis architects and graduate students at UCLA’s School of Architecture and Urban Design. It is the first floating house permitted in the United States.

Make it Right is thankful for all the help they have gotten from people around the world: "From its inception, the Make It Right project relied on the good willed generosity of acclaimed local, national and international architects who donated their cutting-edge designs for single family homes and duplexes that could be considered as projects to be built in the lower 9th ward. Twenty-one architects have now given their time and talent to make the Make It Right site the largest congregation of smart-design homes created by different, award-winning architects working on the same project."

Check out the cool Float House and other super cool designs here

Global Green USA

Global Green was founded in 1994 by activist and philanthropist Diane Meyer Simon. It is the American arm of Green Cross International (GCI) which was created by Mikhail S. Gorbachev, last head of state of the now former U.S.S.R. Gorbachev was one of the best things to come from the breakup of the Soviet Union and actually deserves credit for making the Hammer and Sickle fall in the first place. Because of his openness to new ideas and ways of thinking, Gorbachev was instrumental in enabling Perestroika--an economic, political and social restructuring of the entire Soviet society.

Gorbachev founded Green Cross International during the wonderful historic period of Perestroika "to foster a global value shift toward a sustainable and secure future by reconnecting humanity with the environment." Global Green USA, like the groups working on projects described above, is doing so many amazing things in New Orleans that it's too much to summarize for this blog post. Since the August 2005 devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Global Green USA "made a dedicated commitment to sustainable building in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast." In doing so, they have become a research lab and information center for the world. Among other programs, they are developing a green affordable housing community and are working on greening schools throughout the area under the auspices of their Holy Cross Project.

Working in collaboration with Brad Pitt's Make it Right, Global Green USA helped to coordinate the New Orleans Sustainable Design Competition during the summer of 2006. More than 125 entrants competed to design a net zero energy, affordable housing and community center development in the Holy Cross neighborhood of the Lower 9th Ward. As mentioned, locally-grown architect Drew Lang was one of the amazing finalists. Be sure to look at all the entries.

Check out the entries to the New Orleans Sustainable Design Competition and what Global Green USA has been doing in New Orleans since then.

Former Leader of the U.S.S.R., Mikhail Gorbachev.

Yes, Katrina was a tragedy. But, as the Buddhists say, "life is tragedy". It's sometimes a fact of life so we might as well do some good zen planning and prepare for potential problems by being healthy--mentally and physically.

In original Greek, tragedy defines a disastrous event, a calamity, or a series of terrible events. In this context, tragedy implied there would be some kind of greater understanding gained by the tragic figures. By experiencing the tragedy, they were taught a lesson. Greek Tragedy was intended to mean rebirth. In the end, for the Greek masters of tragedy, a tragedy was not so much bad news as a means to understanding and recreating the consciousness that led to the mistakes made in the first place.

Katrina was a Hamlet-like moment for America--a time when our leaders' blindness and faults caused much pain and suffering. But, in the end, perhaps that Hamlet-like moment will bring back a romantic comedy--the Mardi Gras that was New Orleans--even better than it was before.

Copyright 2009 Paul McGinniss

Bourbon Street, New Orleans

See the Video below: "Moments and Markings" about the St. Roch Art Walk and Neighborhood Revival in New Orleans