Living Building Challenge

A local organization, the Omega Institute, just accomplished what many people have said was impossible – they are one of the first two projects to be certified by the Living Building Challenge (LBC).

The LBC goes way beyond LEED, “it defines the most advanced measure of sustainability in the built environment possible today and acts to diminish the gap between current limits and ideal solutions. This certification program covers all building at all scales and is a unified tool for transformative design, allowing us to envision a future that is Socially Just, Culturally Rich and Ecologically Restorative.”

A LBC building must be net-zero energy, net-zero water, non-toxic, provide for habitat restoration on adjacent sites, and urban agriculture is mandated.

One of the most important features of LBC is that it measures the actual performance of buildings. Basically this means that a year after a building was built, measurements are taken to ensure that it is, in fact, net zero in terms of energy and water, etc. This is a big distinction from existing requirements like LEED and CA’s Title 24 which measure performance models and do not hold projects accountable to live up to those models.

LBC has seven performance categories, or ‘Petals’: Site, Water, Energy, Health, Materials, Equity and Beauty. Petals are subdivided into a total of twenty Imperatives:

  • Limits to Growth
  • Urban Agriculture
  • Habitat Exchange
  • Car Free Living
  • Net Zero Water
  • Ecological Water Flow
  • Net Zero Energy
  • Civilized Environment
  • Healthy Air
  • Biophilia
  • Red List
  • Embodied Carbon Footprint
  • Responsible Industry
  • Appropriate Sourcing
  • Conservation + Reuse
  • Human Scale + Humane Places
  • Democracy + Social Justice
  • Rights to Nature
  • Beauty + Spirit
  • Inspiration + Education

The project cannot contain any of the following Red List materials or chemicals:

  • Asbestos
  • Cadmium
  • Chlorinated Polyethylene and Chlorosulfonated Polyethlene
  • Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)
  • Chloroprene (Neoprene)
  • Formaldehyde (added)
  • Halogenated Flame Retardants
  • Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs)
  • Lead (added)
  • Mercury
  • Petrochemical Fertilizers and Pesticides
  • Phthalates
  • Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
  • Wood treatments containing Creosote, Arsenic or Pentachlorophenol

When I visited Omega this summer they mentioned the Red List and how they had to consult an eight page list of banned materials when buying carpeting for their classroom space. I asked if this was burdensome, “not at all, it’s what is best for the people who use our space.”

Bravo to Omega for taking this leap and being a leader. Showing others what could be is a powerful thing.

Green Team Saves Us Money

Very cool thing happened this week as a result of starting the Green Team @MHLS – we’re saving money already.

Our organization is in some dire financial straits after five cuts in two years from New York State and thanks to the fact that NYS has released just 50% of our funds and we’re in the 9th month of our fiscal year. Not fun.

Our interim director and business manager have done a super human job of cutting back, freezing spending and keeping “the ship afloat” so far. I was able to show that a number of the ideas we came up with on the Green Team would save us operating costs (upgrades to the lighting, new windows, etc.) But we’re in such a tough spot that even relatively small investments ($1,500 for the lighting) are out of reach right now.

But the collective mind proved to be stronger than the individual once again as more of my coworkers got thinking about things they are involved with.

  • Our discussion about getting a water cooler that was less of an energy hog has resulted in the negotiation of not only a better water cooler but the company is waiving the lease fee.
  • In talking to the person in our business office about what logos to look for on paper and other office products to make sure they are as environmentally responsible as possible we poured over the office paper catalog and I longingly pointed to the FSC paper which was more expensive than what we were currently purchasing. She said  “I can get better prices than these” and she did. We’re now paying even less than we were before on a more environmentally responsible choice.

I’ve said a number of times what  great experience the Green Team has been but to finally see cost savings, even minor ones, AND good choices being made is really rewarding.

Louise & the Eco Machine

Can’t resist sharing my good luck, this past week I finally had a chance to check out the Omega Institute’s Eco Machine. An Eco Machine is a natural wastewater treatment system. Omega’s plan is to use the resulting graywater to irrigate gardens and flush toilets.

Omega is a pretty fascinating place all around, but their Center for Sustainable Living is pretty remarkable, they are expected to be the first building in the United States to receive the Living Building designation in addition to receiving LEED Platinum certification. Some highlights:

  • wastewater turns to greywater within 36 hours through constructed wetlands
  • 20 geothermal wells
  • concrete that complies with the Living Building Challenge’s Red List*
  • net metering from solar array
  • partial green roof
  • No PVC
  • plywood in mechanical room from Obama’s inauguration stage!

To top it off I got to meet Louise Schaper who traveled to New York (coming all the way from Arkansas) to visit family and added a stop into Omega to check out the Eco Machine with me. Not quite sure which I was more excited about!

*LBC Red List (The project cannot contain any of the following red list materials or chemicals.):

No added formaldehyde
Halogenated Flame Retardants18
Neoprene (chloroprene)
Chlorinated Polyethylene and Chlorosulfonated Polyethlene21
Wood treatments containing Creosote, Arsenic or Pentachlorophenol

Controlling Humidity

Thought I’d share these helpful articles from on controlling humidity by Alex Wilson.

Why do you want to control humidity in your building?

  • high humidity/moisture can result in mold growth (which can cause allergies and other health problems as well as damage the building)
  • it makes you feel uncomfortable

Mr. Wilson proposes the following solutions for

  1. eliminating moisture sources
    1. fix drainage problems
    2. install gutters
    3. fix leaks in the roof/flashing
    4. insulate cold water pipes to prevent condensation
  2. removing moisture from the air
    1. air conditioners
    2. dehumidifiers

“Library in the Woods”

The Fairplay Public Library in Douglas County Georgia is about to break ground, it will be a brand new library, not just a new library building, but a new library – in a previously unserved area. Very exciting.

The concept for the 15,800-square foot Fairplay Library is to nest among the trees and natural surroundings of the 900-acre Dog River property. The property borders the Dog River Reservoir, the major drinking water source for Douglas County, and the vast majority of the site will be kept in its pristine state to serve as a future passive park and to help protect the water supply. The new library will be on the property’s western side with direct access from Georgia Highway 5. However, the library site will be approximately 1,200 feet into the property in a peaceful and serene setting.

The “library in the woods” concept was proposed by the project’s architects, Ponder & Ponder, Architects, of Norcross, so that the new building would co-exist with the natural surroundings and not interfere with the natural protected setting. The parking lot will be woven between existing trees, and existing topography will be used as much as possible. Native plants will be used in portions of the landscape to eliminate the need for irrigation systems, and rainwater will be captured and used as water features around the building. The outside of the library will complement the natural setting, using stone, wood and other natural elements for the exterior surfaces.

-From a press release issued by Douglas County, GA

The design is aiming for LEED certification and will include:

  • daylight harvesting
  • high-efficiency insulated windows
  • high-efficiency light bulbs
  • high-efficiency HVAC units
  • low water use fixtures
  • insulation for the building is almost double the minimum standard requirement
  • the roof will be heat reflective
  • low VOC (volatile organic compounds) paint and stain will be used
  • solar shading will be over the windows
  • building is physically oriented northwest-southeast to utilize the light, but not receive the heat

Green Team Meeting #2

Today was our second Green Team meeting and it went really well.

  • We reviewed the benchmark data gathered since our last meeting:
    • electricity usage in both buildings
    • gas consumption for both buildings
    • paper recycling levels
    • solid waste recycling levels
  • Options for providing safe drinking water for staff and guests were reviewed in light of the decision to stop providing serving bottled water – bottleless water cooler option looking very attractive (not to mention a lot cheaper than what we’ve been doing). Decided we needed to think about it more and will revisit this at our next meeting.
  • Reviewed the results of our complimentary lighting audit done for by a consulting firm that works with our utility company. I need to double check the numbers but it looks like we could completely convert our lighting in the office building to T8s, get a 50% rebate from our utility AND payback the remaining cost through energy savings in 1.21 years. Not to mention the on-going savings after that.
  • Then came the fun stuff. Over the past three weeks we challenged our coworkers to come up with “green” ideas. Anything goes – that was the only parameter! I received 130 ideas! I’ll share the best ideas in a later post but just wanted to say that at this stage the act of asking everyone had so much benefit:
    • Staff buy-in for change
    • Revelation that some were unaware of existing recycling and energy saving rules already in place building-wide – really made us think about how we convey the rules and how staff are oriented to the way things should be done
    • Behavior is already starting to change – more people are turning off lights in unoccupied offices and rooms, more people are using ceramic mugs rather than disposable cups for coffee…
    • Excitement that they can help the System save money by changing how we do things – people were so anxious to help, it was wonderful
  • Next steps identified:
    • Codify existing rules related to recycling and energy savings and create a staff web page so people can reference the info – things like what is recyclable, who is responsible for turning off lights, making sure everyone is turning off computers/monitors at the end of the day…
    • Create tip sheet on reducing paper use based on the input from staff gathered over the last month
    • Work with the Computer Operations Department to audit all computers and printers in the building to make sure they have basic energy saving settings in place and to develop how-to info for people that want to adjust the energy saving settings
    • Use input from staff to create a checklist of things they can personally do to reduce energy consumption
    • Develop a staff education event to orient them to the building, how they can play a part in reducing, reusing and recycling

So for those of you in our member libraries – the Business Office won the MHLS Go Green Challenge – they came up with twice as many ideas as the other two floors. Doris, our receptionist, was the champ, I got more ideas from her than anyone in the building! Go Green!

“13 Amazing Facts About Green Roofs” [The Daily Green]

13 Amazing Facts About Green Roofs: Green roofs and living walls offer many benefits, including cooling buildings, reducing stormwater runoff, providing wildlife habitat, growing food and creating jobs.

Are you for water?

Gotta love the mascot of the EPA’s WaterSense “We’re for Water” campaign, it’s name is Flo, no word yet on what nickname they gave the toilet sidekick [check out photos here].

In all seriousness… I really like how simple they’ve made the “I’m for water” pledge:

Check your toilet for silent leaks by putting a few drops of food coloring in the tank and waiting 10 minutes to flush. If you see color in the bowl, you may need to replace your flapper.
Twist on a WaterSense labeled bathroom faucet aerator to save water and energy at the tap without noticing a difference in flow.
Replace your showerhead with a WaterSense labeled model that uses less water and energy, but still lets you shower with power.

Bottled Water Battle

At our April 2010 Greening Your Library workshop we tested supplying tap water instead of bottled water and guess what, no one said a word. We’re not even sure anyone noticed.

@MHLS our new interim director, Merribeth Advocate (a master at reducing costs), just declared we will no longer purchase bottled water to supply at our workshops. Good for the environment and good for our ever shrinking budget!

Facts about bottled water:

  • Bottled water isn’t necessarily purer than tap water. An investigation by the Environmental Working Group, released in October 2008, found chemical contaminants in every brand tested — including disinfection byproducts, fertilizer residue, and pain medication. [1]
  • 80 percent of plastic bottles end up in landfills or are burned in incinerators [2] that’s 3 billion pounds of waste annually. [3]
  • 17 million barrels of oil are used in the production of water bottles annually…enough to fuel 1 million cars for a year. [3]
  • See also, NYTimes article “The Battle Over Bottled Water” from their Green Blog