Friday, October 31, 2008

Bowling in the Fog

Yesterday I attended the first annual Twin Cities Compass meeting. I'd never heard of this resource before, but it looks like a great place from which to gather information on a variety of topics (including education, health, civic engagement, early childhood, economy and workforce, housing, public safety, and transportation) and easily compare them to each other. The information is currently focused on the greater Twin Cities region, but it looks as though they are hoping to expand it to "Minnesota Compass" sometime in the future.

At the meeting they unveiled their new data in the area of environmental issues in Minnesota. The results are pretty amazing, and the meeting really honed in the idea that information on where we currently stand on environmental is really so important in order to measure our progress. It's time to stop bowling in the fog, as Peter Hutchinson from the Bush Foundation said. Things always look better than they really are in the dark, so it's time to turn on the lights. We, as people trying to "green" the built environment, need to keep up with this type of data to ensure that we're putting our efforts where they have the greatest and longest-lasting impact.

Click here for information on the environmental indicators for the Twin Cities area.

Twin Cities Compass is looking for feedback and other sources of reliable data, so please contact them if you have any.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Natural Step - training seminars in Minnesota

We had our first meeting for the GSE trip to Sweden last night. We basically went over some of the information that will be needed to from the Rotary Club in order to go on the trip. It was so great to meet all of the other women that are going on the trip; they all have incredible stories and a passion to learn about sustainability can be incorporated into their lives and careers. It is going to be a really interesting and educational trip!

In Sweden, one thing we will be learning about is the Natural Step process, but thankfully you don't have to go all the way there to learn about it yourself; there are local seminars as well. It's very short notice, but the Alliance for Sustainability is hosting a two-day Natural Step Framework Seminar on Oct 30 & Nov 6 at the Edina Community Lutheran Church. The cost is $95. More information can be found here.

If you are not able to make these dates and will still like more information, the pdf of the Powerpoint presentation by Terry Gips is available for download here. Thank you to the Alliance for providing this information!

I will post more information on locally-available resources as this GSE trip moves forward. Three great sources to learn more about sustainability in Minnesota include:

NextStep - A website for Minnesota Sustainable Communities Network (MnSCN) and others to use to share information about events, networking opportunities, and resources all related to environmental sustainability.

Alliance for Sustainability - Their mission is to bring about personal, organizational & planetary sustainability through support of projects that are ecologically sound, economically viable, socially just and humane. Included in their list of many projects are the Natural Step Framework, The Living Green Expo, Sustainable Sweden Tours, and the Green City Initiatives.

Dovetail Partners - Dovetail's mission is to provide authoritative information about the impacts and trade-offs of environmental decisions, including consumption choices, land use, and policy alternatives by creating inventive solutions to challenging questions.
Some of their projects and areas of expertise include Land Use, Responsible Trade & Consumption, the Eco-Affordable Housing program and the Minnesota-Made Home project, Sustainable Forestry and the FSC Family Forest Alliance, and their monthly e-newsletter The Outlook, which reaches over 10,000 subscribers every month.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Sweden Group Study Exchange

I was selected to go on the Rotary Club's Group Study Exchange to Sweden!

I am very honored and excited; it's going to be a great trip. I will be documenting the experience on this blog so continue checking in so you can learn as I am learning. Hopefully the ideas will facilitate more rural green building and generate creative conversations about developing eco-communities in Minnesota (and beyond). The posts should also serve as a resource to connect you to Swedish professionals and information on different aspects of sustainability and green building.

is a link to Dovetail's press release about the exchange.
Here is a link to more about the Group Study Exchange program.

If anyone has any suggestions for places and projects to explore, or has any special requests in items they'd like to see posted on this blog specifically for the tour, please let me know.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Taking Natural Steps and Looking to the Bright Side

Yesterday I took part in an interview for the Rotary Club's Group Student Exchange (GSE) program to Sweden. I didn't know much about the Rotary Club before hearing about the program, but was pleasantly surprised that their mission statement is "service above self," and that this particular GSE focused on sustainability and The Natural Step. The Natural Step was actually born in Sweden and I have been trying for to a long time to experience it first-hand. I believe it could provide some excellent models and suggestions for Minnesota to build more green communities. I really hope to be chosen for the program! It sounds like it's a very enlightening, life-changing experience.

One Rotarian that I met is working on a housing project in Africa, and is trying to build it in a green, sustainable way. It sounds like they are having some challenges with solar and other innovative heating methods, but that they are on their way. One interesting thing he mentioned is a project called Millennium Villages, whose organization, the Millennium Promise, has a mission to end extreme world poverty by 2025. They focus on building up communities so they can take care of themselves economically in the future (sort of like the Eco-Affordable Housing program!), and they do it by hitting all aspects simultaneously - hunger, disease, inadequate education, lack of safe drinking water, and absence of essential infrastructure. Part of this also includes environmental sustainability. I found their handbook to be especially interesting and potentially helpful to rural community development. I am astounded and happy that so many people are doing good things in the world.

The interview, while nerve-racking, was very illuminating. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of great, heart-warming people that I met there. I would suggest to anyone to take part in such a program and apply for a GSE if you have the opportunity, and to look into the Rotary Club as well.

So I have been a little bit enlightened from this experience. Instead of focusing on the downturn in the housing market and the problems our economy is facing - which are of course very hard on our industry - let's focus on how we can help each other instead. There is still so much hope out there - so hang in there.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Minnesota GreenStar Credits related to Windows

In a previous post, I mentioned how LEED credits relate to windows. If you are installing windows in a new home, replacing windows in an existing home, or manufacturing/selling window products, knowing the Minnesota GreenStar credits that relate to windows might also be helpful.

Minnesota GreenStar is only related to residential projects, not commercial. It has both a Remodeling program and a New Homes program.

The Minnesota GreenStar checklist and manual are extremely detailed, and for a person who has not yet gone through the process, it may seem a bit daunting. I have taken out the credits relating to windows and posted them below. Click to enlarge the photo. If you'd like a larger version, please contact me and I'd be happy to send you a pdf version of the file.

Minnesota GreenStar Remodeling related to windows

Minnesota GreenStar Remodeling checklist
Minnesota GreenStar Remodeling manual

Minnesota GreenStar New Homes as relating to windows

Minnesota GreenStar New Homes checklist
Minnesota GreenStar New Homes manual
Minnesota GreenStar New Homes points thresholds for home size

Just a note about the program - Windows made with FSC-certified materials or local materials can attain points. However, it currently does not state that windows made from environmentally preferable materials, such as rapidly-renewable, recycled-content, or salvaged material-content can attain points. However, if such a product did exist, it would be taken into consideration for point allocation. So if you've got a great idea for this type of window, be sure to let the Minnesota GreenStar people know.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Local Materials in LEED

I hope this post helps to answer any questions about how LEED addresses 'local' materials.

LEED-New Construction (Credits MR 5.1 and 5.2) requires that the product be extracted, processed, AND manufactured within a 500 mile radius of the site. Either 10% (or more) or 20% (or more) of total materials in the whole project have to fit this criteria, based on cost of materials. If only a certain percentage of a product fits these qualifications, then that percentage of the total price of that product is used in the calculations of total materials cost in the project.

LEED-Homes (Credit MR 2.2) requires that the product be extracted, processed, AND manufactured within a 500 mile radius of the site. LEED-H bases this per building component and not as a percentage of total materials in the project. In this way, components would not need to rely on other products in the project to qualify for local credits. At least 90% of the component per weight or volume must meet the local criteria to qualify.

Click image to enlarge

Here's a link to a report we did on local materials that also highlights how other green building programs address "local":