Friday, December 26, 2008

Vento Residences, Greenest Multifamily in N. America!

Vento Residences

( Note: This story originally ran earlier this year, Vento Residencecs are now two years old and can be found in the community of Bridgeland, at The Bridges, the site of the former General Hospital.)

The Vento Residences has earned North America's first LEED Platinum* certification for a multi-family residential project. Located in Calgary, Alberta and built for a price of $8 million, this multi-use urban infill project has 20 two-story townhouse suites that are situated above retail space. Interestingly, the development was coming online at the same time as several other developments in the area and sold out quickly at a slight premium in price (compared to the competition). Purchasers identified with the dark green units and bought them up in a heartbeat.

The design includes the following green features: individual heat recovery ventilators, stormwater recycling for toilet and irrigation water, dual-flush toilets, radiant floor heating, double-glazed low-E argon filled windows, occupancy sensors, ample daylight infiltration, 100% recycled countertops, regionally-sourced renewable materials, and private gardens for each unit. As a result, The Vento uses about 50% less water and 47% less energy than comparable condo units.



Vento Diagram - CLICK TO ENLARGE

*This project was certified by the Canadian Green Building Council.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Green Collar Economy

Watch Van Jones discuss the Green Collar Economy

Part of the Solution: Permaculture

Permaculture - from the marrying of the two words "permanent" and "culture".

According to the Real Goods Solar Living Sourcebook, Permaculuture is "a holistic system of design that embraces the totality of a place. Grounded in the ethical intentions of Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share, Permaculture design is a system of assembling conceptual, material, and strategic components in patterns that provide mutually beneficial, sustainable, and secure places for all forms of life on earth. Permaculture pulls from the depths of indigenous wisdom as well the patterns found in Nature. It is a way to garden and a way to build our homes, but it is also a design system that can be applied to larger-scale economic and social institutions.

On January 17-18, 2009 Ravis Sustainable is bringing Jesse Lemieux from Pacific Permaculture to teach a introductory class on Permaculture. It run s from 9am to 4pm, both Saturday and Sunday. Cost is $250. For more information contact Rob Avis at or online at

Sunday, December 14, 2008

New Research Ranks Top Renewable Energy Options

Sarah Kuck

Modern wind energy plant in rural scenery.

Image credit: Wikipedia

New research from Stanford University ranks wind power as the most promising alternative source of energy. Titled Review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security, the report from civil and environmental engineering professor Mark Z. Jacobson ranks the world's energy options -- putting wind, concentrated solar and geothermal at the top of the list, and nuclear power and coal with carbon capture and sequestration in a tie for dead last.

According to a recent article from,

Jacobson has conducted the first quantitative, scientific evaluation of the proposed, major, energy-related solutions by assessing not only their potential for delivering energy for electricity and vehicles, but also their impacts on global warming, human health, energy security, water supply, space requirements, wildlife, water pollution, reliability and sustainability. His findings indicate that the options that are getting the most attention are between 25 to 1,000 times more polluting than the best available options.
"The energy alternatives that are good are not the ones that people have been talking about the most. And some options that have been proposed are just downright awful," Jacobson said. "Ethanol-based biofuels will actually cause more harm to human health, wildlife, water supply and land use than current fossil fuels." He added that ethanol may also emit more global-warming pollutants than fossil fuels, according to the latest scientific studies.
The raw energy sources that Jacobson found to be the most promising are, in order, wind, concentrated solar (the use of mirrors to heat a fluid), geothermal, tidal, solar photovoltaics (rooftop solar panels), wave and hydroelectric. He recommends against nuclear, coal with carbon capture and sequestration, corn ethanol and cellulosic ethanol, which is made of prairie grass. In fact, he found cellulosic ethanol was worse than corn ethanol because it results in more air pollution, requires more land to produce and causes more damage to wildlife.

From his findings, Jacobson is able to suggest that the U.S. government invest money and create jobs around the development of wind, solar and geothermal:

"There is a lot of talk among politicians that we need a massive jobs program to pull the economy out of the current recession," Jacobson said. "Well, putting people to work building wind turbines, solar plants, geothermal plants, electric vehicles and transmission lines would not only create jobs but would also reduce costs due to health care, crop damage and climate damage from current vehicle and electric power pollution, as well as provide the world with a truly unlimited supply of clean power."

Although wind energy cannot do it alone, Jacobson remarks, we can use a combination of the cleanest renewables to create a powerful, stable and consistent supply of energy for the United States. Here is how Jacobson ranks the renewables, from best to worst:

Best to worst electric power sources:

1. Wind power
2. concentrated solar power (CSP)
3. geothermal power
4. tidal power
5. solar photovoltaics (PV)
6. wave power
7. hydroelectric power
8. a tie between nuclear power and coal with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS)

In addition to being a "dirtier" from of renewable energy, Jacobson adds that nuclear takes longer to plan, permit and construct. Also, it brings up major security issues, since finding and refining uranium for the plants has the potential to increase terrorist activity.

"The potential for terrorists to obtain a nuclear weapon or for states to develop nuclear weapons that could be used in limited regional wars will certainly increase with an increase in the number of nuclear energy facilities worldwide."

Having well documented, non-corporate funded research like this at your fingertips is extraordinarily helpful for everyone from community members to high-ranking government officials. Now that we are moving into a different political atmosphere, hopefully we can look forward to more scientific documents that will provide us useful, hard evidence for positive solutions.

To read the full paper, click here.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Open Letter to a Politician (who just happens to also be my cousin)

Hey Doug,

And I luv ya too, cuz..

I have a tremendous amount of respect for you and what you're doing, I know it isn't easy, and I'm sure it's even harder, than the hard I envision and I wouldn't expect you to see eye to eye with me on everything. As you know I grew up with a single mother, a never there alcoholic father, was an asthmatic child and my Mom got cancer when I was 5. All of these things effect your perspective and when your growing up and trying to find your place in the world, the environmental community seemed like the right place for me, I don't always agree with everything, because I did come from a family with Conservative and farming roots as well and that has shaped my perspective too.

The reality is, there are no easy answers, and no one person is 100% right, because everyone has different things happen to them in life that shape their perspective, sometimes I feel like the more I read and more I try to figure people out though, the more I wish I would just keep my mouth shut, but that's not like the people in our family, is it?

Yes I do live in Calgary, I've considered moving many times, but there is a good eco-community movement growing here, and I feel I can make a difference in it at least for now. I do live in a condo, it's heated by geothermal and solar thermal hot water heating. Calgary has some of most sunny weather in major cities across Canada and there's lots of potential to be done with it.

Rudolph Diesel ran his first engine on bio-based fuel, so did Henry Ford, Diesel was rather adamant about petro fuels not being used in his engine at all, but he was up against Goliath and we all know how that ended up. Today we have many alternatives, including things like algae based fuels (which I've seen run down in California in real cars) and all sorts of alternatives that don't require much energy to produce, thus there EROEI (energy returned on energy invested) has a ratio higher than 10:1 unlike Tarsands oil. Sure Suzuki has been saying this for a while, it's going to happen, I like to draw on a great metaphor from businessman Ray Anderson from Interface--In the earlier attempts to fly, the man going off a very high cliff in his plane with his wings flapping thinks he's flying, but in reality he’s actually in free-fall and doesn’t know it yet because the ground is so far away and of course he’s doomed to crash. That’s our civilization, the very high cliff represents the seemingly unlimited resources we seem to have, but the craft isn’t flying because it’s not built to the laws of aerodynamics and is subject to the law of gravity. Our civilization is not flying, because it’s not built to the laws of aerodynamics for civilizations what would fly. The ground is still a long way away but some people have seen that ground and told us it’s you say you have an Honours Degree in Environmental told me two years ago you voted Green, so I know you know...maybe things have changed a bit, but it's like I said before I don't always agree either, with the Greens, with other parties and so on.

The whole idea behind this is "consequences", we teach our children that actions have consequences, but collectivity as a society we don't seem to think so, the idea that we the human race are too small to affect the climate is crazy, remember the Montreal Protocol on CFCs, oh yeah we can effect things up there can't we! We came together then, but this is apparently too big, too many people stand to lose too much and because so much of our society is build on it, your right I could end up with with no power, no imported food, etc. but that's a risk I'm willing to take, because it's still the right thing to do. That may sound crazy, but it's worked for me so far....can't say the same for everyone.


this is a response to "An Open Letter to an Environmentalist" from Doug Griffiths, MLA

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Me and You and Everyone: the Global Oneness Project

A new project documents the many expressions of interconnectedness across the globe

By Amelia Glynn

Few concepts are as slippery as “oneness.” Sure, the idea that all things are interconnected might appeal in the abstract. But trying to wrap your brain around what oneness actually means is a lot like trying to understand infinity or a bazillion dollars or the distance between here and the sun — it’s hard to conceptualize something that “big.” Among the daily distractions of work, kids, or that craving for a soy mocha, it seems simpler to leave the pursuit of oneness to the “woo woo” world — the meditation masters, the Buddhist monks, psychics, yogis and their ilk.

At least that’s what neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor always thought. That is until, one December morning in 1996, a blood vessel exploded in the left half of her brain, leaving her unable to talk, walk, read or recall any part of her life. Miraculously, for a four-hour period as her hemorrhage grew, Taylor was able to consciously observe the phases of her brain’s deterioration from the inside out.

Upon losing the functioning of her brain’s left hemisphere, (or the “me”-thinking hemisphere, as she calls it), Taylor came face to face with unencumbered right-brain “we-thinking”… or, simply, oneness. As she described in a February 2008 lecture at the annual TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Conference in Monterey, CA, “because I could no longer identify the boundaries of my body, I felt enormous and expansive. I felt at one with all the energy that was, and it was beautiful there.”

For Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee, founder of the Global Oneness Project (GOP), an organization dedicated to documenting the many expressions of interconnectedness across the globe, Taylor’s story is not only remarkable, it’s good for business.

Growing up with meditation as an everyday practice and his father, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, a revered Sufi teacher and author, Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee learned that “oneness” — a central tenant of Sufism that celebrates the connectedness of humanity — was a way of life. So it wasn’t surprising when he began to cultivate an interest in people who were actively and creatively living this idea — and wanted to share their stories.

The Business of Oneness

The GOP is no ordinary venture: its product is hope, assembled in a living library of short films and interviews from all over the world. The content, which is available as free, high-definition downloads on the organization’s website (, are bite-sized introductions created to inspire. (They can also be translated into any language.) Each one shows an example of how unity, interconnection and social responsibility are helping to spur creative responses to some of the world’s greatest challenges.

DVDs are also “sold” from the website, but no money passes hands. Instead, they are served up “pay-it-forward” style: the site simply asks that each one be shared with at least five people before it is passed on to someone else.

Ultimately, the Project, funded by the Kalliopeia Foundation in San Rafael, California, aims to create a shift from me-based to we-based thinking by bringing oneness alive. “We’re not trying to create a perfect, utopian world,” insists Vaughan-Lee. “Just one where love, generosity, understanding, abundance — all the good stuff — can be applied to practical social, economic and political systems.”

The current state of the world and his dual role as both do-gooder and dad makes Vaughan-Lee’s desire to evoke change all the more urgent. “We are dealing with destruction on a massive scale and the solutions lie in shifting our mindset,” he says. Vaughan-Lee believes the inspiration these films invoke can help people think and live differently. “Change can’t be top down,” says Vaughan-Lee. “The revolution needs to come from the people.”

Content from the GOP is being used in schools, fairs, festivals and community centers from Florida to France. When John Macleod, the computer clubhouse director for the Marin Youth Center After-School Program shared a selection of short films with a group of kids, it inspired them to create their own film about local environmental groups in Northern California. “They’re engaging with social and environmental topics that have real meaning instead of making the usual skateboard or lightsaber videos,” Macleod says. He agrees that talking about “oneness” can be very abstract — especially for youth. “Using film is a good way to make it feel real and help them figure out how to get involved with the world around them.”

Susan Rooney-Harding, director of Inspirational Cinema included several of the GOP films in her free film series for secondary schools in South Australia. Forums following the screenings allow youth to develop and share new ideas about global sustainability and how they as individuals can begin to actualize their ideas. She says kids walk away with the feeling that “one person can make a difference.”

Vaughan-Lee and his team plan to continue collecting and recording people’s stories. “What began as a web-based only project is evolving,” he says. “We’re now creating longer pieces and coming up with a central theme for each trip.” His goal is to develop television programming and potentially a full-length feature film.

“What we have done so far is to give out seeds,” says Denise Zabalaga, the Project’s videographer and editor. “When people realize they’re not alone — that there are others who share their hopes, in their own hometown and all over the planet, this awakens a sense of responsibility, power and joy.”

Writing about oneness made the concept come alive for freelancer and regular contributor Amelia Glynn.

Friday, August 29, 2008

New LEED rating system in the works

The world's leading certification system for sustainable architecture is set to undergo its most sweeping changes in 2009. The proposed revisions encourage designs that would reduce a building's impact on global climate change.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, commonly known as LEED, has become the standard for green building design since the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), a nongovernmental organization, crafted the rating system eight years ago. Architecture that voluntarily improves energy efficiency, water conservation, and indoor air quality has surged in popularity in the past two years, especially in Europe and major U.S. cities.

According to USGBC's August statistics, more than 2,400 commercial and residential buildings worldwide are LEED certified, and nearly 14,000 are under way. The green building movement has the potential to significantly reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. In the United States, about 40 percent of all energy is used to heat, light, and cool residential and commercial buildings, according to the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration.

Minimum LEED certification, however, does not necessarily guarantee environmental improvements. Developers who purchase environmentally related products off a LEED-supplied checklist may produce a LEED-certified building, but the building's future impact on energy and resource use is unknown. The proposed revisions are the beginning of a transition toward buildings that earn their green marks based on performance rather than eco-marketing.

The current LEED system allocates a maximum of 69 points for various environmental quality improvements. A building that receives 26 points is certified, and more points are necessary to receive the higher rankings of silver, gold, and platinum. While costly improvements such as solar panels are likely to boost a building's rankings, all categories are given equal weight, making some improvements less effective than others.

"LEED has been frequently criticized for not having a solid rationale for allocating credits," said Jerry Yudelson, a Tucson-based architect who teaches LEED-certification workshops. "The classic example is you get one point for putting in bicycle lockers and showers and one point for saving 7 percent of energy. Are those equivalent benefits?"

The new model emphasizes designs that the USGBC considers most beneficial for today's global environment. Improvements that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and burn fewer fossil fuels account for 34 of the 100 points. While a building requires only 40 points to receive certification, factors including access to transportation and energy efficiency can no longer be avoided, said Scot Horst, chair of the LEED steering committee. "We are saying climate change is the most important thing, so we put the most points to credits that deal with climate change," said Horst, president of the architecture consultancy 7Group. "If you want to get certified, you have to focus on those areas."

The new criteria place greater focus on the environmental impact of a building's entire life cycle. Contributions to eutrophication - the creation of oxygen-free dead zones in polluted water bodies - and "ecotoxicity" are now emphasized. Eventually, the USGBC envisions a system that assesses lifecycle impacts by measuring a building's pollutants, rather than being based solely on the attributes of building materials.

The 2009 LEED standards also plan to include more mandatory designs - most notably water efficiency. Building requirements, however, are not the same in all climates, and the stricter rules may further complicate efforts to streamline the process. Green developers in arid regions, for instance, struggle to balance air ventilation with energy conservation: if more hot air enters a building, more air conditioning is demanded.

To compensate for regional differences, the proposed standards grant local chapters "bonus points" that can be allocated toward design issues that would aid certification in that area. "This is the best way possible to give responsibility to chapters - they're the ones who know the local issues - without jeopardizing the consistency of LEED overall," Horst said.

But several architects still consider the system lacking. "There is a tension between having a national system... and yet still allowing a lot of regional differences," said Yudelson, who chairs the USGBC's annual conference committee. "[A solution] is for LEED 2012... We're not ready to make that big of a leap."

Regardless of the policy changes, some critics say a system like LEED does not do enough to improve the world's environmental woes. Architect Jonathan Ochshorn, an associate professor at Cornell University, said LEED-certified buildings are anecdotal examples of improvements that ultimately serve a corporation's profit, not the environment. "LEED in general is a way for institutions and corporations to collect points from a public relations standpoint," Ochshorn said. "The world isn't getting any better because of LEED."

The number of green buildings constructed remains relatively small - about 2 percent, according to a 2006 Green Building SmartMarket Report - due to higher building costs and the often stressful complexity of the certification system. To simplify the process, independent certifiers [PDF] have been hired to handle the growing number of certification requests. The costs are also beginning to fall as energy prices climb and green designs become mainstream.

"The changes in LEED are definite improvements, I think everyone is behind them, but we also need to improve the system," Yudelson said. "We need results, not just a certification on a building."

Ben Block is a staff writer with the Worldwatch Institute.

Organic food is no middle class fad

From the Guardian,

By Helen Browning

The end of that "middle class fad" – organic food – will be the cry from pundits feeding on reports of a decline in sales. But are the buyers of organic produce really that fickle? I think not.

Firstly, it's worth remembering that we have had other recessions in the century-long history of the organic movement. Yet over this time, and especially in the past 20 years, there has been consistent growth, as people have come to see the flaws in the structure and practices of the global food industry.

Yes, there has been the occasional plateau in growth. There have also been years of explosive expansion at other times, when BSE reared its head, for example, and as genetic engineering hits the headlines. These are times when society queries hard the "advantages" of cheap food, and the "advantages" of global agri-business strengthening its armlock over food supplies and producers.

Despite this track record, could this economic downturn really be the end of the road for organic? As incomes tighten for a period, do people really revise their values and prioritise a new iPod, a pair of shoes, a smart car, over feeding their families better food? Very unlikely.

Has the ethical consumer disappeared overnight – the same consumer that got so much media limelight just months ago? What nonsense. The ethical shopping market is now estimated at £5.4bn, with 80% of us active in it, compared to just 20% a few years ago.

Ethical shoppers are not just middle-class faddists. The assumptions that those on lower incomes just don't care about better food anymore, or the health of farm animals, or our environment, are hideously patronising.

Organic food is such an easy target at times like this. It is often more expensive, in terms of the pound in your purse, in the industrialised world. But it is not so in developing nations, where organic-based techniques of soil care, crop rotation and natural fertility-building are often the most effective, safe, productive and resilient ways of producing nutritious food for the local population.

Here, cheap oil and gas is the basis of the fertiliser and the big machinery agri-business relies on. That's the key reason conventional food seems so inexpensive (we spend, on average, only 10%-12% of our disposable income on food, the stuff of life!).

The real cost is borne by the animals in their confinement, the environment in its degradation, and the population generally as the efficacy of antibiotics, for example, is potentially reduced due to their overuse to keep stressed animals healthy. Pretty expensive cheap food, you might think. And food that, while plentiful enough to keep most of us alive longer, appears to carry various other costs to our own health, such as obesity, malnutrition and heart disease.

You must also ask what happens if fossil fuels continue on their apparently inexorable rising cost curve? Organic food will start to look like a cost-effective option – it already uses 26% less energy on average. Even now the price gap between organic and conventional food is narrowing. Organic may even become a necessity, never mind a luxury. And there are plenty of options open to the organic shopper on a budget: direct from producers, seasonally bought, or using farmers markets, organic products can be cheaper already than conventional stuff bought in the main retailers.

As a farmer myself, I am nervous about the confusions in the market place at the moment. A dismal summer, rising feed costs (for my pigs and dairy cows), endless promotions on retailers' shelves – it all means erratic sales. But our own experience is that people still want great quality and real provenance. I also believe that the day-to-day pleasures of eating wonderful food are even more enjoyable during more difficult economic times.

We may see, and are seeing, some flattening of organic sales in the short term, but if as farmers we strive to achieve the highest standards in husbandry and quality and honesty, I believe that society will continue to buy into the fruits of our labour. Our customers are not as daft as some would make out.

· Helen Browning is food and farming director at the Soil Association and an organic farmer in north Wiltshire.

Saturday, August 16, 2008



Many of you might know me through Planet Organic, as well as Riva's Eco Store in Calgary. I also operate a green consulting company called Earthshine. We are now creating our very own blog, so you can help keep you up on all matters of green and sustainable living. Keep us bookmarked at

Shayne Korithoski