Archive for February, 2010


Given the current state of the U.S. economy with a 9.7 % unemployment rate in January, it is uncertain when the recession will end. Americans have cut back, businesses have scaled down production and the once rapid growth of the U.S. economy has stumbled. In the midst of the current environmental movement, many people voice that given the recession, now is not the time to spend money on green infrastructure. This post will present a cost-benefit and economic analysis of building green. My goal for this post is to positively add to the decision making process of individuals and businesses contemplating to build, buy and design green.

(Photo by Andre Movseyan/DeMaria Design)

THE BENEFITS:

Positive Return on Investment

According to a recent study, green homes in the Pacific Northwest are outselling their competition in the real estate market. Green certified homes in Seattle sold for 8.5 % more per square foot and were on the market 22% less time than other homes in the same area. This study shows that building green can result in positive net benefits. The study focused on new home sales between September 2007 and December 2009. Despite the recession, it seems that building green certified homes resulted in positive returns to the seller. But, what does the buyer gain from purchasing a green home?

Since green certified homes sold for 8.5 % more than other homes, buyers greatly value the environmental benefits of certified homes. Homebuyers paid a premium for certified homes that encompass renewable energy, eco-friendly materials and energy efficiency. Buyers of green homes believe that the purchase is a healthy and environmentally responsible choice for their family and are willing to pay a premium for these benefits. The value- added non-market environmental benefits of a green certified home are reflected in the higher price.

Save Money on Energy Bill

Photo: Flickr.com

Green certified building use energy efficient lighting. Energy Star compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) use 75 percent less energy and last 10 times longer than traditional light bulbs. In addition, CFLs save money. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, One CFL will save about $30 over its lifetime and pay for itself in about 6 months.” There is proof that Americans use CFLs. The Sylvania Socket Survey discovered, Almost three quarters (74%) say they have switched a light bulb for more energy efficiency in 2009.”

Photo: Green Over Gray

Healthy Living

Green certification checklists, such as LEED incorporate building materials and finishes with low volatile organic compounds (VOCs). LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.LEED is an internationally recognized green building certification system,  providing third-party verification that a building or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance across all the metrics that matter most: energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.”

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection (EPA), VOCs are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of household chemicals that cause adverse health effects. VOCs are found in higher concentrations indoors than outdoors (up to ten times higher). Designing, building and buying a LEED certified house will guarantee that you will have less exposure to harmful VOCs. Ultimately, indoor air quality will be improved.

Photo: Flickr.com

Conserve Finite Resources and Climate Change

The picture  above of the Redondo Beach home was made out of eight recycled steel shipping containers. Seventy percent of the building was efficiently assembled in a shop, saving time, money and resources.

LEED certified buildings incorporate recycled and renewable materials along with water conservation and energy efficiency design techniques. Choosing to incorporate Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood and recycled materials will help conserve the world’s finite resources, reduce deforestation and address climate change. Incorporating low flow shower heads, faucets and Energy Star dishwashers will conserve water. Energy efficient appliances, lighting, water heaters  and insulation will help conserve energy and reduce the use of resources.

THE COSTS:

Price/Money/Funding

Green certified buildings have higher upfront fixed costs. The building materials in certified buildings are of higher quality, therefore cost more than conventional materials. Sustainable, renewable and low VOC materials have many environmental benefits and their value is reflected in the higher retail price. Energy efficient appliances usually cost more than conventional appliances, but the amount of energy savings over the lifetime of the appliance might actually be less for an energy efficient model.

The U.S. economy has struggled during this recession and many budgets are being scaled back. Less funding may be available to build green. Priorities are being reconsidered, and for many Americans, putting food on the table is a higher priority in the current economic climate.  Currently, Americans might not value the environment as they once did in times of growth and prosperity.

To achieve LEED certification, the developer must submit an application documenting compliance with the requirements of the rating system as well as paying registration and certification fees. These additional fees add costs to the green building process.

Time

Designing LEED certified buildings may take more time than traditional buildings because there are many details involved to meet certification criteria. Also, the higher LEED certification of gold versus silver will need additional time in the planning process. The strict requirements equate more energy and time will be absorbed during the planning process. To achieve LEED certification status, developers might have to jump through additional hoops compared to the traditional proposal process. There is an opportunity cost of building green. Spending time researching, planning and designing green means there will be less time for other activities and projects. Each individual and company should consider if the time spend on building green creates more benefits than any other activity. Is building green the best use of time, money and resources?

Availability of Certified Materials

Abundant supply of building materials to meet LEED and green building certification might not exist. During the planning process, it may take more time to research and compile the materials needed to meet certification. Local Seattle sustainable design companies, for example, One Earth One Design, provide wholesale materials along with consulting services.

THE CONCLUSION:

According to Environmental Building News, “Even with a tight budget, many green building measures can be incorporated with minimal or zero increased up-front costs and they can yield enormous savings.”

In the end, green certified buildings have high upfront fixed costs, but have lower variable operating costs over the lifetime of the building. Life cycle cost analysis can be done for each project to address the upfront expenditure. “Studies have suggested that an initial up-front investment of 2% extra will yield over ten times the initial investment over the life cycle of the building.”

For existing buildings LEED has developed LEED-EB. Recent research has demonstrated that buildings which can achieve LEED-EB equivalencies can generate a tremendous Return on Investment (ROI). LEED-EB certified buildings achieved superior operating cost savings in 63% of the buildings surveyed ranging from $4.94 to $15.59 per square foot of floor space.

But a problem exists in the cost-benefit analysis.

Calculating project upfront costs can be determined with accuracy, but the environmental benefits of LEED certified buildings can not be monetized. This means that a dollar value can not be easily determined for green buildings. This is the reason for the disagreement to build green. The choice to build green is an individual one. Every person places a different value on environmental benefits. Therefore each cost-benefit analysis will have different results and outcomes. Whether you are making a personal or business decision to build, buy and design green, hopefully these concepts and ideas within this post provide a useful framework.

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We want our lives to be sustainable, but sometimes the incentives are just not there. Incorporating sustainable living into your life is easier than you think. Here are some simple ways to utilize technology, save time and money.

1. Subscribe to On-line Newspapers, Magazines and Newsletters

Instead of receiving daily newspapers or monthly magazines, go on-line instead. Websites contain the same information as the publication, but doing so will save paper. Check out on-line editions of the New York Times, Seattle Times or Seattle Magazine.

2. Receive E-Statements

Switch utility bills, credit card bills and bank statements to E-Statements. You will receive your statement on time and will reduce the chance of it getting lost. Also, instead of writing a check, spending postage and time, pay your bills with an E-Check.

3. Use Email

By using email, you can save paper, money and time. Next time you think about sending a letter through the mail, choose email and save postage and paper in the process. Also join no junk mail lists to cut down on unwanted advertisements.

4. Say Hello with E-Cards

For the next birthday, holiday or important event, send an E-card instead. Americans send 7 billion cards per year. Producing a ton of virgin paper requires 20 trees. There are also many E-card companies that offer free cards. Save trees and send an E-card. Planning a party or event? Send invitations via Evite.com.

5. Stop Clipping Coupons

Sign up for E-coupons and check out your local weekly store ads on-line. This will allow you to research the weekly sales and organize shopping trips. Combining multiple shopping trips into just one will reduce your dependence on gasoline.

Here is a trailer for the series Design e².

“e² is a critically acclaimed, multipart PBS series about the innovators and pioneers who envision a better quality of life on earth: socially, culturally, economically and ecologically.”

Watch the season one first episode “The Green Apple”

The first episode begins in New York, a city that is leading the charge to green its industrial skyline with several groundbreaking projects. New York combats the urban myth of the bustling city as a “concrete jungle.” “The Green Apple” explores some of Manhattan’s most prominent and technologically advanced structures like One Bryant Park and The Solaire, as well as the innovative minds behind them. The episode illustrates how the ubiquitous skyscraper can surprisingly be a model of environmental responsibility.

Think outside the box

Get creative with alternative methods of transportation. Whether its renting bicycles for an adventure through the city, kayaking to pristine beaches or skiing through alpine terrain, try something new and discover the culture outside tourist hot spots.

Use local public transportation

When traveling, utilize the city’s trademark public transportation. In New York take the subway. San Francisco use the MUNI, street and cable cars. Seattle hop on a ferry to the San Juan Islands. Every large city has a public transportation system, take advantage of it during your travels.

Here is an interesting fact:

“20 percent: Carbon monoxide emissions saved if one in five Americans rode public transportation daily; the savings would be greater than the combined emissions from all chemical manufacturing and metal processing industries.”

Do your homework

Before you go, do some research on hotel locations, attractions and events near by. Finding accommodations near attractions, museums and restaurants will allow you to walk or take a short transit ride. Smart location is an essential part of reducing CO2 emissions and will save time and money too.

Discover the world on your feet

You never realize how beautiful and interesting a place is before you use your feet and start walking. Traveling the world in a car or plane allows you to miss the true character of the places you go. Our dependence on cars reduces the time spent exploring the world.

For example, living in Seattle, I used to mostly drive from place to place and never realize what was in between. Recently, I decided to put my car keys away and walk through my city. Downtown Seattle has so much to offer to pedestrians, from boutiques to unique coffee shops to wine bars. There are an endless supply of museums, shops, restaurants, theaters and bars within walking distance in Seattle.

Just last week I took the bus to see “South Pacific” at the Fifth Avenue Theater. From the theater was a short walk to shopping at H&M and dinner at Pike Place. After dinner I ventured a few blocks down to the Seattle Art Museum to see some amazing installation art. Discovering the true essence of Seattle was only possible for me by walking through the city. Every street has its own story to tell and unique character. Walking is the most valuable way to explore a location and truly enjoy your vacation.

What would you add to the list? Do you have examples from your travels?

All of use want to save money, but how can you be ‘green’ at work too? Below are simple ways to save money at work with the environment in mind.

1. Pack your own meals

Making your own meals saves money and improves your health. Pack nutritious and budget friendly meals in reusable containers, bring utensils from home and cloth napkins. Whether its a sandwich, soup, salad or leftovers, making your own meals will become an easy habit to save money, eat healthy and reduce waste. Stop spending money on your daily morning latte, bring your own travel coffee mug and make coffee at work.

2. Carpool with co-workers

Ask around the office, create a carpool network. Carpooling not only saves money, but is an easy way to reduce CO2 emissions and combat climate change.

3. Bring your own water bottle

Now you no longer need to buy expensive bottled water, just bring your own. Choose one that is BPA free, preferably aluminum. Klean Kanteen makes BPA free, aluminum water bottles. If you are worried about the purity of your water, ask your employer to install a faucet water filter or put a Brita pitcher in the fridge at work.

4. Energy Saver Setting on Computer

Today, most computers provide an energy saving setting. By choosing this setting, computers will automatically ‘sleep’ when not in use. Also remember to turn your computer off when you leave work everyday. The EPA recommends, “Setting computers to enter system standby or hibernate after 30 to 60 minutes of inactivity. To save even more, set monitors to enter sleep mode after 5 to 20 minutes of inactivity. The lower the setting, the more energy you save.”

5. Switch light bulbs

LED or compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) last up to 10 times longer and use less energy. By doing this, your work will cut down on light bulb replacement costs, use less energy and save money. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “An ENERGY STAR qualified compact fluorescent light bulb will save about $30 over its lifetime and pay for itself in about 6 months. It uses 75 percent less energy and lasts about 10 times longer than an incandescent bulb.”

6. Decrease paper margins and always print double-sided

By simply reducing paper margins from 1.25″ to 0.75″ will allow more words to fit on each sheet of paper, reducing the amount of paper and ink costs. Just simply adjust the document margins and save paper, ink and money. Also, remember to print double-sided. Western Washington University did this and significantly reduced printing costs.

How Many People Really Use Twitter?

Did you ever wonder how many people are actually on Twitter? Twitter was first introduced in 2006 and since then has attracted around 18 million people. That’s roughly 3.8 % of adult Internet users. In 2008, the estimate of Twitter users was only 6 million people and since then has increased by 200 % over the 2008 statistics. Is this growth rate sustainable? What is the long-run capacity of Twitter users? These questions lead to the economic principle of supply and demand. Twitter is flooded every day with the tremendous supply of new users and their tweets. These new users demand additional capacity for tweets every day, but the capacity of infrastructure remains constant in the short term. What is the demand of capacity by Tweeters? Can Twitter use continue to grow exponentially without server problems?

Demand (Tweets) and Supply of Capacity

If the growth rate of new Twitter users continues at the same rate, there is the possibility of seeing the whale and bird image more often. More users equals more tweets and the possibility of server overload. One potential problem is lack of infrastructure.

Despite the high demand of capacity by Twitter users, the retention rate is about 40%. This means 60% of new Twitter users abandon their accounts within the first month. Even though new users are rapidly joining every day, after the first month only 40% of dedicated Twitter users will remain. The estimated Twitter growth rate may be significantly inflated. This may be good news for committed Twitter users who wish to avoid over capacity server problems.

Who Uses Twitter Anyway?

Young adults in the 18-34 age range made up roughly half of 2009 Twitter users. As our generation relies more and more on the Internet and social networks, Twitter and other social networks will continue to exponentially grow. Will there be enough capacity in the future? Nobody knows what’s in store for on-line technology, but creative and innovative minds will be needed.

The Future for Twitter

By the end of 2010, Twitter is projected to have 26 million users; equivalent to 15.5% of adult Internet users. Not currently on Twitter? Well now is the time to join.