Making it Easier to be Green
Green design includes energy conservation, but that's not what it's all about. It's about having good air quality both indoors and outdoors, making the environments in which we work, live, study and play healthier and more comfortable and conserving all of our natural resources.
This site will provide a balanced, holistic view that includes advice about saving energy, water and other natural resources, improving indoor air quality, using environmentally responsible design and construction techniques and minimizing waste.

I will be focusing on interiors for three reasons:

  • We spend about 90% of our time indoors.
  • Buildings in the United States annually consume about 30% of our total energy and 75% of our electricity.
  • As a New York State Certified Interior Designer and a LEED Accredited Professional, I want to share my knowledge and expertise with you.
Sustainable design and construction can be done in many different styles and using a wide variety of materials. There are examples of healthy, sustainable, comfortable and inviting interiors for commercial, not-for-profit and residential clients on the web site for Interior Design Solutions.
You can use the labels on the sidebar to locate entries that you want to read. For instance, most people might want to look at the entries for "Green Homes," but "Green Finance" would be of more interest to professionals involved in the design, construction, management, financing and marketing of buildings.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Greening The White House


President Obama intends to pursue LEED Certification for The White House. While the lawn will represent a challenge to achieving LEED points (short, well-groomed grass is often maintenance-intensive, and needs more water, fertilizer and herbicides than field grass), the building itself has a number of features that make it relatively energy efficient already.

I was amused to read that the windows would be of particular concern. The White House, like many older buildings, has a ratio of mass vs. glass that makes the building envelope intrinsically more energy efficient than modern buildings that make extensive use of glass. Most of the tall, relatively narrow windows appear to start 30" or more above the floor, which means that they admit maximum daylight with minimum heat gain.

Window treatments can help to increase energy efficiency the old-fashioned way. In summer, draperies should be closed during the day in rooms that are not being used to minimize solar gain. In winter, closing draperies (especially at night) can help keep rooms snug and warm.

The White House, like many older buildings, was designed to be comfortable and healthful without central heating and air conditioning. Of course, it the building could probably benefit from retro-commissioning and new lighting design, but "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Some time ago I wrote a blog entry entitled "10 Tips for Greening the Obama White House." It's on my original web site: www.idsgreen.com

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Update - Green Buildings not Living Up to Green Labels

Henry Miller's Theatre is the first theater in the United States to be on track for LEED Gold certification. My enjoyment of a performance there last night (and that of fellow theater-goers with whom I spoke) was marred by extreme discomfort caused by air conditioning that made those of us with orchestra seats feel as though we were sitting in a meat locker. This seems ironic, since two of the main tenets of LEED are energy efficiency and occupant comfort.

Everything seemed right when I first toured the theater. While the facade of Henry Miller's Theatre has been retained, it is actually part of a building that is a poster child for LEED, the Platinum-rated Bank of America Tower. Both the architects, FXFowle and the building owners, The Durst Organization, are recognized leaders in sustainable design, and the project represents an honest attempt to address core concerns, rather than focusing on easier and less expensive ways to achieve LEED points.

Often costly equipment that can improve occupant comfort and energy performance, such as an under-floor air distribution system, is value-engineered out of projects. So it seems unreasonable to grouse about a project that includes this amenity. It's like a teenager who asks for a car and is given a Ferrari complaining. But just as the Ferrari would not be useful to a teenager unless someone took the time and trouble to teach him or her how to drive it, sophisticated systems that are not properly explained to the people who have to operate them don't do anyone any good.

This highly visible LEED project is consuming much more energy than necessary, and my guess is that the cause is lack of proper training of and communication with operations personnel. I certainly hope that's the case, because that would be much easier to fix than a problem with the design or installation of the system.

Effect of Lighting on Air Conditioning

Okay, now she's really lost it!!! What does an Easy Bake Oven have to do with lighting efficiency and air conditioning bills? Quite a lot, actually.

The heat source that bakes all of those little cakes and cookies is an ordinary 100 watt incandescent bulb. Only 2% of the energy used by this type of light bulb generates light, and the rest generates enough heat to bake a cake (admittedly a small one) in twelve minutes. If you substituted a compact fluorescent bulb for the incandescent one in an Easy Bake Oven your child would be very disappointed because the batter would probably never turn into a cake. A fluorescent bulb is from four to five times as efficient as an incandescent one, so it generates a fraction of the heat.

Well designed lighting, properly used, can save quite a bit on your energy bill. Normally, the predicted savings are calculated using a simple formula that only accounts for the direct cost of the electricity used for lighting and ignores the savings on air conditioning.

Although accurately modeling the predicted energy use of air conditioning systems is complex and requires considerable expertise, intuitively it makes sense to assume that when you cut the amount of watts your lighting consumes, you are also cutting air conditioning requirements to some degree.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Split Incentives Hinder Sustainable Initiatives


There's an 800-pound gorilla in the room when most companies discuss sustainable initiatives. Intraorganizational split incentives present significant barriers to sustainable design and construction. Departments often compete for resources and recognition, and sometimes they seem more focused on competing with each other than with outside organizations. Individual departments are often only willing to make investments for which the returns benefit them directly, rather than their "competition".

Interdepartmental cooperation that benefits the overall bottom line and planning for the future are especially challenging when money is tight and cut-backs are required.

In an ideal world, everyone (or at least everyone with a shared mission) would work together for the common good. But in reality, personnel charged with design and construction within an organization are sometimes reluctant to dip into their budget in order to realize savings in operations and maintenance costs. Why spend money in order to make your competition look good?

There's been a lot of talk about revamping financial practices to consider the triple bottom line of "people, planet and profit." If that goal seems too challenging in the current economic climate, how about "profit, profit and profit?" Many sustainable initiatives have less than a five year simple payback, and a 20% ROI is certainly nothing to sneeze at, especially when it also benefits people and planet and improves an organization's image.

While addressing split incentives between organizations (as in landlord vs. tenant) can be challenging, split incentives between different departments within a single organization can be effectively addressed by its finance team.

Addressing the issue of intraorganizational split incentives can have a significant positive impact on an organization’s bottom line. For instance, Harvard University has set up a revolving fund that enables departments to obtain grants for sustainable initiatives. The grants are repaid from savings on operations and maintenance within less than five years. Harvard's Green Campus Loan Fund has been averaging an ROI of 20% per year, which is considerably better than the endowment funds of most universities.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Some Reasons Why Buildings May Not Live Up to Green Labels

Recently The New York Times published an article entitled "Some Buildings Not Living Up to Green Label." The main thrust of the article was that a number of LEED buildings are not sufficiently energy efficient to qualify for the EPA's Energy Star Building label. The article addresses a few of the possible reasons for this disparity, one of which is that some LEED project teams "chase points" by incorporating as many inexpensive criteria as possible, rather than focusing on more capital-intensive energy management solutions.
A significant reason that LEED buildings are not meeting the Energy Star Building standard may be that Energy Star focuses chiefly on energy at the expense of other important characteristics of green buildings. The Energy Star rating system for buildings is a set of tools that enables building owners to evaluate their properties in relation to other buildings of the same type based upon energy consumption per square foot. The EPA does say that buildings should be tested for compliance with minimum acceptable standards for ventilation, thermal comfort and adequate lighting, but does not allow additional energy consumption for buildings that exceed those standards.
Here are some other reasons that I believe LEED buildings may not qualify as Energy Star Buildings:
  • Energy Star rates buildings based upon energy consumption per square foot and does little to account for variation in occupant density. New buildings (including LEED buildings) often allow fewer square feet per person, and of course more people will use more energy. So an older building with large perimeter offices for executives could get a better Energy Star rating than a new LEED building with superior space optimization.
  • Energy Star groups office buildings that operate at least thirty hours per week ten months per year into a single class for comparison, and often building modeling systems that predict energy use in buildings assume that most occupants will leave at about five or six o'clock. A number of LEED buildings in New York have considerably extended hours of operation, especially those housing law firms, publishing companies and financial institutions.
  • Many LEED buildings have large expanses of glass from floor to ceiling. Glass between the level of the floor and approximately 30" above it introduces a lot of heat into an interior with very little daylight to compensate for the solar gain.
  • One of the chief advantages of LEED buildings is enhanced indoor environmental quality. Increasing the level of ventilation and thermal comfort over that specified by ASHRAE standards and building codes benefits occupant health and productivity, but can result in higher electrical costs for HVAC than that of a less healthful building.
  • LEED professionals jokingly say that the buildings are perfect until people start using them. Unfortunately, there's quite a bit of truth in that statement. Often building maintenance personnel, cleaning personnel and building occupants are not properly trained about the effective operation of the new building.
  • Sometimes building systems do not perform as expected and initial commissioning does not address the problems adequately.
The EPA has acknowledged that Portfolio Manager is not always effective for urban buildings and promised a NYC specific overlay to support Greener, Greater Buildings legislative mandates. Hopefully, the new parameters will provide methods for addressing both our 24/7 work schedules and the high occupancy densities of all of our buildings.


    Green Computing Initiatives


    Computers consume a lot of energy, especially when you factor in the amount of energy used in air conditioning server facilities. Energy consumption and cost driven by growing demand for computer services is a major problem for many organizations. Data centers in the United States consume annually more than 62 billion kilowatt hours of electricity - equivalent to the amount used by approximately 5.8 million U.S. households - for a total cost of about $4.5 billion. If current trends continue, that usage could double by 2011. The good news is that there are a number of ways in which you can decrease the energy use and cost associated with computers.

    Throughout Your Office, School or Home
    • Purchase only energy-efficient hardware (Energy-Star should be the minimum requirement for all new equipment).
    • Replace desktops with laptops in areas of light usage *
    • Replace CRT monitors with flat screens *
    • Consolidate peripheral equipment. Using shared printers in centralized locations not only saves energy, it can improve indoor air quality.   
    • Use power management features to turn off equipment when not in use
    • Deactivate screen savers, which waste energy
    • When you will not be using a computer for several hours, power it down and turn the power strip off to eliminate "vampire energy" drain.
    • For schools and offices that have centralized computer facilities, consider replacing distributed computers with thin clients. Thin clients depend primarily on the central server for processing activities, and mainly focuses on conveying input and output between users remote servers.
    For Data Centers
    • Evaluate potential of software applications to be migrated to external web facilities. Email is a prime candidate for outsourcing.
    • Consolidate servers. You may have twice as many as you need. *
    • Replace older servers with more energy-efficient ones. *
    • Reconfigure server layout to avoid "hot spots."
    • Adjust room temperature. Many server rooms are colder than they need to be.
    • Use energy-management software.
    • Consider alternate cooling methods. For instance, IBM's Rear Door Heat eXchanger "cooling doors" reduce server heat output at the source.
    • For large data centers, consider co-generation. Co-generation is on-site production of electricity and heating or cooling, and is considerable more efficient than using electricity from the grid.
    * Make sure that all e-waste is disposed of responsibly.
    For additional information about advances in server room design, please consult the following post on the Corporate Social Responsibility Newswire:
    http://www.csrwire.com/press/press_release/25472-IBM-Unveils-Plan-to-Combat-Data-Center-Energy-Crisis-Allocates-1-Billion-to-Advance-Green-Technology-and-Services

    Monday, September 7, 2009

    Changing Fluorescents to Fluorescents

    We're hearing quite a bit about replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps ("CFLs"), but much incandescent lighting is in homes , where the major energy consumption is from temperature control and appliances. Fluorescent lights, while much more efficient than incandescents, have several disadvantages:
    • They contain mercury, and breaking them releases a toxic substance. So they should always be recycled, rather than tossed into the garbage.
    • They don't last as long as predicted when turned on and off frequently.
    • Most of them will not work with dimmers.
    • They do not function well in recessed fixtures that have lenses covering the bulbs.
    But Lighting is the major single source of energy consumption in commercial buildings, especially when you include both the energy consumed by the lighting itself and the energy consumed by cooling the increased heat load that the lighting generates. So improving lighting efficiency in commercial buildings can save an enormous amount. For instance, if your office was designed more than five years ago, the general ambient lighting is probably accomplished using T12 lamps and fixtures with magnetic ballasts. Changing to T8 lamps and electronic ballasts can improve efficiency (and reduce energy costs) by 40%, especially if you use the new generation of high performance T8s. In addition, T8 lamps last longer than T 12s and have better color rendition. Some people think that if T8s are so much better than T12s, T5s must be even better. T5s are great for certain applications, but they are better left to lighting designers who understand the advantages and disadvantages of using them.

    There is quite a bit of useful information about fluorescent lighting on GE's web site:
    http://www.gelighting.com/na/business_lighting

    Thursday, September 3, 2009

    Efficient Lighting Lowers Air Conditioning Bills

    Okay, now she's really lost it!!! What does an Easy Bake Oven have to do with lighting efficiency and air conditioning bills? Quite a lot, actually.

    The heat source that bakes all of those little cakes and cookies is an ordinary 100 watt incandescent bulb. Only 2% of the energy used by this type of light bulb generates light, and the rest generates enough heat to bake a cake. If you substituted a compact fluorescent bulb for the incandescent one in an Easy Bake Oven your child would be very disappointed because the batter would probably never turn into a cake. A fluorescent bulb is from four to five times as efficient as an incandescent one, so it generates a fraction of the heat.

    Well designed lighting, properly used, can save quite a bit on your energy bill. Normally, the predicted savings are calculated using a simple formula that only accounts for the direct cost of the electricity used for lighting and ignores the savings on air conditioning.

    Although accurately modeling the predicted energy use of air conditioning systems is complex and requires considerable expertise, intuitively it makes sense to assume that when you cut the amount of watts your lighting consumes, you are also cutting air conditioning requirements to some degree.