Posts Tagged ‘green buildings’

Landscape For Life

Saturday, June 25th, 2011

You’ve heard me sing the praises of the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES), the country’s first rating system for landscapes that make ecological sense. SITES, which provides technical metrics for landscape professionals striving to go green, sets sustainability standards for landscapes the way LEED does for buildings. Landscape For Life, a collaborative project of the U.S. Botanic Garden and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, is the new homeowner version of SITES. Landscape For Life makes it possible for anyone to create a sustainable garden. (In the interest of full disclosure: I worked with the USBG and the Wildflower Center to develop the content for the Landscape For Life website and print materials.) Stay tuned, because further enhancements, such as interactive features and a souped-up design, are in the works.

Here’s my “Growing Greener” column on Landscape For Life that appeared in Public Garden magazine, the flagship publication of the American Public Gardens Association, Vol. 25 No. 3. In my “Growing Greener” columns I answer sustainability-related questions from public garden staff. (more…)

Green Restaurants

Saturday, November 13th, 2010

Here’s another one of my “Growing Greener” columns in Public Garden, the flagship publication of the American Public Gardens Association. This one appeared in Vol. 25 No. 2 (2010). In “Growing Greener” I answer sustainability-related questions from public garden staff.

Q: I’ve heard that it’s possible to have our restaurant certified “green.” Is this true, and if so, what does it entail?

A: Missouri Botanical Garden’s restaurant Sassafras and Phipps Conservatory’s Café Phipps have joined the ranks of top-rated American restaurants that have been certified by the Green Restaurant Association (GRA), and for good reason. It’s a little known fact that restaurants consume vast amounts of water and energy and generate an astonishing amount of solid waste and pollution each year.

Some statistics to chew on: (more…)

Living Building Challenge

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

The following was published as part of my regular “Growing Greener” column in Public Garden magazine, Vol. 25 No. 1 (2010).  Public Garden is the flagship publication of the American Public Gardens Association. In “Growing Greener” I answer sustainability-related questions from public garden staff.

Q: What is the Living Building Challenge, and how is it different from the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating system?

A: By the sound of it, you’d think the goal of the Living Building Challenge—to encourage the creation of “living buildings” that “function as elegantly and efficiently as a flower”—was tailor made for public gardens. Although it grew out of the Cascadia Region Green Building Council, a chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, it is designed to push the industry—and LEED itself—to a whole new level. In the words of one observer, the Living Building Challenge makes LEED’s incremental system of credits that get tallied up to determine whether a project earns Certified, Silver, Gold, or top Platinum rating “look like something drawn up by Exxon.” (more…)

Carbon Neutral Monday

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

I couldn’t care less if Angelina Jolie becomes the next octomom. I care a little bit more about the latest pictures of George Clooney, but not much. Yet every couple of months for years when I’d go get my hair done I’d still get sucked into consuming all the schlocky celebrity garbage in the magazines lying around the salon. This year, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to bring better reading with me to the beauty parlor. So for the next couple of days I’ll be blogging about a few of the things I read on Saturday when I went to get my hair cut.

To continue Friday’s burning question, I’ll start with Richard Conniff’s interesting piece in environment 360. Coniff uses the recent opening of Kroon Hall, the new home of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, as a jumping off point to ask whether it is feasible to achieve carbon neutrality, “the architectural Holy Grail in the age of global warming.” (At least architects acknowledge that this is the ultimate goal. Landscape designers haven’t even gotten to that point yet.) Ultimately, he concludes that it’s possible to get “damned close,” but even Yale will have to purchase offsets to mitigate the emissions they could not design out of the building.

Surprisingly, Coniff seems a bit miffed by the fact that the biggest carbon emission savings came not from “sexy new technologies” but rather from very traditional design strategies like orientation for passive solar heat gain, careful shading, and making the most of daylight. (Duh?) But he does a good job of pointing out how flaws in the U.S. Green Building Council’s current LEED system lead to “certified green” buildings that are anything but energy efficient (and therefore not even close to carbon neutral).

And he does a great job of exploding the myth that going green just doesn’t pay: “In practice, the green premium may add 2 to 10 percent to construction costs. But the green label added 10 percent to the sale price for Energy Star buildings and 31 percent for LEED certified buildings,” according to a recent University of Reading study.

More Green Cities

Monday, January 19th, 2009

While I’ve been off for the past three weeks celebrating the holidays and doing site visits for a public garden project I’m working on, news of the following green city plans has been reported, courtesy of Inhabitat

For a neighborhood of Gothenburg, Sweden, currently covered with parking lots and football fields, comes this plan for a “garden block” nestled beneath a series of green roofs shaped like undulating hills. These green roofs insulate the buildings below while absorbing rainfall that can be purified for household use. The project also includes space for community cultivation of fruits and vegetables.

Meanwhile, outside of Milan is a planned development of high-rises with stacked planted terraces surrounding a large municipal park. The complex will be completely self-contained, with schools, sporting facilities, and a shopping center, saving energy by reducing the distance residents will need to travel in the course of their daily lives. Photovoltaic panels will help shade sunny windows while generating electricity, and solar water heaters will also slash energy use.

Green Walls or Greenwash?

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

I admit it—I’m as seduced by the idea of verdant buildings as the next plant nut. On a purely aesthetic level, structures with living walls are a major improvement over the granite and glass monoliths that rise from the typical cityscape like enormous gravestones. But before we fall head over heels for green walls it’s worth asking whether they’re all they’re cracked up to be. Do they really, as touted, help insulate buildings, filter particulates from polluted city air, counteract the urban heat island effect, and create habitat for insects and spiders? Or are they just a green veneer, a 21st-century version of the fussy millwork that decorated Victorian buildings? Or worse, do they actually eat up more resources than they save? 

Even the green-minded bloggers at Treehugger and Inhabitat have been drooling over the latest designs, Daniel Libeskind’s 900-foot New York Tower, an upscale residential skyscraper with a section of glass curtain wall cut away to accommodate vegetated balconies, and Rotterdam-based MVRDV’s cluster of cone-like structures with concentric rings of boxwood-lined terraces intended for a new city south of Seoul. From a biological point of view, only one of the “11 Buildings Wrapped in Gorgeous Green and Living Walls” in this glowing review is interesting—Sharp & Diamond’s 50-square-meter green wall of wildflowers, ferns, and ground covers at the Vancouver Aquarium that seems to be based on plant associations found on cliffs, scree slopes, and other natural analogs. (If you haven’t seen it, take a look at The Urban Cliff Revolution, which suggests that these natural habitats have a lot in common with skyscrapers and other features of the modern city, and can serve as “habitat templates” for green walls and roofs.)

But what about the carbon footprint of the growing media used to create green walls, and any fertilizers used to sustain the plants? Is irrigation required? If so, is there an integrated graywater system in which used water from sinks, dishwashers, and other sources is cleansed by the plants and growing medium and piped back into the building to flush toilets? In short, do the environmental benefits of green walls outweigh the costs? I’d love to see some hard data.