Saturday, December 19, 2009

The economic benefits of health

“Employees who are on top form have a stronger immune system and are less likely to get sick and be absent from work.”

Brendan Brazier

In the early part of the 20th century, being overweight was a sign of wealth and, as such, a status symbol. Those who were able to afford excessive amounts of food wanted the world to see that they made enough money to overeat. Fortunately, times have changed, though today people showcase their wealth in other, no less health-damaging ways.
Now it is those at the other end of the income spectrum who are most commonly overweight or obese. According to studies conducted by the Journal of the American Medical Association, low-income individuals and families are much more likely to be overweight than those earning middle and high incomes. Of course this is a generalization, but that’s how these kinds of studies work.
As you might expect, low-quality diet is one of the main reasons for the increase in obesity among the poor. Many processed and highly refined foods (or, what in some cases are more properly referred to as “edible food-like substances”) are cheaper than whole, fresh and natural options. And people with less money are more likely to buy the cheaper foods.
This is problematic for two reasons. First: highly-processed and refined foods generally have little to no nutritional value. As a result, you will have to consume considerably more food to satisfy the body’s need for nutrients. Only when the body has the nutrients it requires does it switch off its hunger signal. The negative short- term effect is that more food will be consumed, which leads quickly to weight gain. In addition, the digestion of this low-nutrient food robs the body of energy without providing much energy in return. The result is that the person feels less full and has to spend more money to buy additional food to stay satiated. If that person were to gradually switch over to a diet comprised of more expensive
whole foods, he or she would no longer be in a constant state of hunger and therefore would naturally choose to consume less. The financial saving gained from buying cheap processed foods quickly evaporates.
Second, the consumption of these processed foods contributes to long-term health risks. If a person has relied on processed foods to reconstruct the body day in and day out for decades, that body will falter later in life. Disease of some form will almost certainly be the result. Type II diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, and the many offshoots of cardiovascular disease are the most common ones to develop. The drugs used to treat these ailments can cost several thousand dollars per month. And that’s just to alleviate the symptoms; the underlying disease continues to progress.
To put it simply, replacing refined, processed foods with natural, whole foods is a very effective form of health insurance. You will stack the odds in your favour and save money in the long run. In the short term, you will have more energy and greater mental clarity, both of which can significantly improve productivity. Some people may choose to put a dollar value on that.
We are beginning to experience a realization within corporate America that true, sustainable health can be directly translated into improved profits. The realization that healthier employees not only get sick less often, but are also more productive, has clearly begun to dawn.
As the health of the American people declines, so, too, does their nation’s economy. This is not a coincidence. More people are developing disease earlier in life than in any previous generation. Those who aren’t privately insured place a tremendous burden on the taxpayer-funded healthcare system, contributing to higher taxes, a decrease in spending, a sluggish economy, and even plays a role in the recession America is now experiencing.
While there are other contributing factors here, including the sub-prime mortgage debacle and war spending, a nation made up of unhealthy people is inevitably going to become an unhealthy nation economically. A company comprised of unhealthy people will never reach its full earning potential.
Large corporations are beginning to catch on. At the Googleplex in Santa Clara County, California, Google employees enjoy recreational facilities once the exclusive domain of high-priced resorts: a gym, two swimming pools, and a sand-volleyball court. But the Googleplex’s culinary options are where it shines the brightest. With 11 cafeterias, the selection of food is vast. And employees can request whatever they want, whether it’s on the menu or not. The cafeterias offer several balanced, plant-based options and a plethora of smoothies and raw foods.
Is Google going to this considerable upfront expense simply because they’re nice people? No. They are nice, but they also understand that the improved health and happiness of their employees will improve their bottom line. And it has, consistently, since the inception of this policy in 2003. The monetary return on their investment comes in the form of employees performing at a higher level. And consider the advantages that beyond-basic health can bring to a company. Employees who are on top form have a stronger immune system and are less likely to get sick and be absent from work. Companies who don’t embrace this holistic approach to well- being and productivity will not turn as great a profit and eventually will not be able to compete with the ones who do embrace it. Then they’ll have to answer to their shareholders.
I can relate to this first-hand. In 2003, I met Charles Chang, who had started a natural nutrition company called Sequel Naturals the previous year. At the time, his company included him and a part-time secretary. Sequel Naturals eventually became one of my sponsors, providing me with top-of-the-line maca (MacaSure) and premium chlorella (ChlorEssence) to blend into my recovery blender drink formula. I was immediately impressed with the results, which prompted talks between Charles and I about partnering and creating a commercially available version of my blender drink formula.
We turned discussion into action and a year later we launched the Vega brand in Canada and then in the United States the following year. As Vega continued to grow, Charles hired a staff and moved into a larger office. Once Vega developed a following, naturally the staff required to handle the demand grew steadily. Understanding the link between employee health, happiness, and performance, Charles equipped the new office with a state-of-the- art lunchroom. It is always stocked with fresh fruit, vegetables, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and, of course, Vega for making nutrient- packed smoothies. The lunchroom is open to all the employees; they are free to eat as much as they want throughout the work day.
In 2008, Profit magazine listed the top 100 fastest-growing Canadian companies. With Vega soon to be four years old, Sequel Naturals was listed as the eighth fastest-growing company, with a growth of 3,730 percent. While the health and happiness of Sequel employees wasn’t the only reason for this unprecedented rate of improvement, it was undeniably a contributing factor.
The fact that “health and wellness” is beginning to be viewed as something that is of economic value is vital. And, in my estimation, this will eventually prove to be what turns our society’s health around and thereby will be responsible in large part for a resurgence in personal revitalized well-being. Rightly or wrongly, we are a society that bows down to the economy, revolves around it and is altogether controlled by it, so for the economy to value our health is of great significance. For it to have a vested interest in us is a nice change. ■

Brendan Brazier is one of only a few professional athletes in the world whose diet is 100 percent plant-based. He’s a professional ironman triathlete, the bestselling author of The Thrive Diet, for more information see

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Toxin-Free Super Efficient Straw BaleHaus


Written by Preston Koerner | Jetson Green

Modcell, a company in the UK that makes prefabricated panels from straw and hemp, this year completed a two-story straw bale home on the campus of the University of Bath. The home, referred to as Balehaus@Bath, was designed by White Design. Over a year, the Balehaus will be monitored in thirty-second increments with 12 sensors inside and 66 sensor in the walls, measuring such things as thermal performance, acoustics, air tightness, and relative humidity.


The panels made by Modcell were assembled with renewable, non-toxic straw from a local farm filled in a wooden structural frame. They're 3.0 x 2.9 m and the walls are 490 mm thick.

As a result, the BaleHaus is extremely low energy -- efficient enough to meet the PassivHaus standard, although it has not received the same certification.

According to Footprint, a blog of the Architects' Journal, the estimated build cost of an 86 m2 house is £130,000. By U.S. standards at today's exchange rate, that's about $214,000 for 926 square feet.

Researchers at the University of Bath determined to experiment with straw because it can be grown locally and absorbs carbon dioxide as it grows. Thus, buildings made from straw can have a smaller footprint than those built with other materials.



Balehaus-bath-siding Bath-bale-haus-siding-exterior



Photo credits: Modcell.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Unconventional crop – hemp – could sprout new industry

October 31, 2009

EDMONTON, AB, Oct. 31, 2009/ Troy Media/ — As combines mowed farmers’ fields across Canadian prairies this fall, there was a scene near Edmonton right out of a time warp: – a crew of workers actually using their hands to harvest plants.

The workers were taking down three-metre-tall hemp plants at a breeding nursery outside of Vegreville, AB. The plants, which dwarfed the workers, were being bundled, numbered, bagged and transported to researchers, who see a high-tech future for the ancient plant.

The Alberta Research Council (ARC) is working to help hemp find its way into everything from homes to cars to clothes. It’s part of a campaign to see our agriculture and forestry industries compete in the global push for sustainable products.

“ARC is evaluating hemp as a fibre crop for mature, large-scale industries looking for green products,” ARC crop and plant physiologist, Jan Slaski said. “Alberta’s soil and climate are perfectly suited for growing hemp crops.

“We analyze the seed and plant for biomass and fibre yield, as part of the breeding program for creating the perfect industrial hemp,” he added. ARC uses advanced breeding techniques to develop traits such as water- and nitrogen-use efficiency, with no useable trace of the psychoactive compound THC, which is found in marijuana. It is hoped the breeding program will ultimately lead to a stronger plant with a bigger yield.

In ARC’s Edmonton facility, advanced materials program leader John Wolodko picked up a boat part made from material pressed from hemp and plastic. “This is traditionally made from fiberglass,” he said. “Products made from biocomposites work as well as those made from conventional materials, with the advantages of being lighter and less expensive. The ability of environmentally friendly products to compete with non-renewable products like fiberglass makes for a competitive and promising future for the biocomposites industry.”

Slaski and Wolodko are part of ARC’s biofibre development team, the largest of its kind in Canada, offering solutions from “seed to final product.” Hemp is only one aspect of the biofibre program, but its unrivalled fibre and biomass yield make the fast-growing and versatile crop a potential biocomposite superstar. While wheat straw yields about three tonnes of fibre per hectare, hemp weighs in at 10 to 15 tonnes.

Slaski peeled a hemp stalk, held the outer fibre in both hands and yanked with force. The fibre is unrelenting. The peeled outer and inner layers each have different industry potential. Applications for the resilient, long outer (bast) fibre include car parts, textiles, reinforced cement and panel boards for construction. Hemp’s inner core (hurd) fibre, only a half-millimeter long, has recently seen an increase in demand. “It is appealing as an absorbent for the oil and gas industry or bedding for livestock operations, since it has no dust,” Slaski said.

Alberta’s new ally for the agriculture and forestry industries is the Alberta Biomaterials Development Centre (ABDC), a $15-million facility set up by the province to bring advanced products and sustainable solutions to market. “The hemp processing challenge is an example of where ABDC will fill technical gaps in processing biomaterials and business gaps to get products to market faster,” ARC business development manager Richard Gibson said.

ABDC offers access to expertise, test facilities, scale-up equipment, validation prototyping and customer-demonstration support. “Bio-industrial entrepreneurs will be able to test their business cases at ABDC,” Alberta Agriculture program leader and ABDC spokesperson Trevor Kloeck said. “Industry will have access to staff and specialized equipment, such as technology used to separate the different hemp fibres. Then the market applications are endless.”

ABDC’s resources work in tandem with those at ARC to form a bridge between the field and the final product. “We have a patent-pending decortication process. This technology produces 10 to 50 mm-length fibres, for biocomposite products and pulp and paper applications,” says ARC research engineer Laura McIlveen. “ABDC has slightly different technology: a long-line decorticator, which processes one-third-metre-length fibre at one tonne an hour.” Both technologies are available through ABDC for pilot scale market assessments.

Hemp is currently grown in Alberta for the high-quality oil niche market. But the case for using a new and improved strain of hemp for a broad range of products is becoming stronger by the day. “It also makes sense to include hemp in rotation with wheat and canola,” Slaski said, “since it can reduce the spread of disease and increase the life of the fertility of the soil.”

That could mean that scene out of the time warp will vanish, as hemp becomes a lucrative industrial crop, harvested with high-tech machinery to provide solutions for green products.

Channels: Engineering Canada, October 31, 2009

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Nauhaus Group Breaks Ground on Historic Prototype Home

Billy Schweig

Asheville, NC–The Nauhaus Group has officially broken ground on its historic prototype home. The Nauhaus Prototype, or NHP, is set to be one of the most radically sustainable homes ever constructed in the US. The design for the NHP boasts a unique combination of energy efficiency, traditional (or “natural”) building materials and aesthetic appeal.

Members of the Nauhaus Group believe that the NHP is on track to be one of the first ten Passive House certified homes in the US, garner the most LEED points of any residential building on record, and be the first house in the US to utilize Tradical®Hemcrete® (a recycled hemp shiv insulation) as its wall system.

Organizers of the project decided not to hold a groundbreaking ceremony as most high-profile building projects do and, instead, opted to hold a “Carbon Capture Ceremony” later in the process of building.

“We thought it would be more appropriate because our building’s paradigm is constructive, not destructive. Considering the unique features of the home we decided to hold a public event at a time in the construction process when participants could view and experience some of the more exciting features of the prototype,” said Michael Figura, one of the organizers of the event.

Whereas a normal groundbreaking ceremony might involve a commemorative shoveling of soil, organizers at the Nauhaus Group hope to time their November 6th Carbon Capture Ceremony to coincide with the actual installation of the hemp wall system so attendees can participate.

After years of planning, the NHP is slated to mark a prominent shift in the way people think about homes and building in general. “The strength of our approach,” says managing director Clarke Snell, “is that we draw from a variety of methodologies and perspectives. We’ve got high-tech systems working with low-tech materials. Art in league with science.”

It’s no secret that the Nauhaus Group is out to save the world.

“The Nauhaus prototype is only part of a growing movement in the US to act responsibly when it comes to our carbon footprint,” said Snell. “The result of our approach is not only the most efficient, low-impact, durable, healthy, beautiful and affordable housing system we can muster, but a system that will continue to change, improve and grow.”

The house is owned by the Nauhaus Group itself and will be open for regular tours, workshops and other visits upon completion. It will, in the meantime, be occupied by chief engineer Jeff Buscher to do energy efficiency analysis, systems testing and other research before it is sold.

The Nauhaus Group is a newly formed organization composed of designers, engineers, and builders at the top of their respective fields in Asheville and beyond. The group engages in for-profit activities ranging from design to sales but is also in the process of founding the non-profit Nauhaus Institute to house research and education activities such as the NHP. For more information on attending or sponsoring the Carbon Capture Ceremony or for information on volunteering for community workdays at the NHP, contact Billy Schweig (

Friday, August 28, 2009

Living Buildings Challenge - Pursuing True Sustainability in the Built Environment

Shayne Korithoski

A paradigm shift is now underway in the how buildings and developments are designed and constructed. Unfortunately many projects pursuing Built Green, LEED and other forms of green certification fall short of what is truly needed at this time. Currently, buildings contribute the largest single source of emissions to our environment. Approximately 40 percent of all carbon emissions. Buildings also represent a top priority health concern in regards to indoor air quality, according to the U.S. EPA. Indoor air is in fact over 2 to 5 times more polluted than the air outside. A recent recall of toxic imported drywall contaminated with hydrogen sulfide, sheds a light on just how toxic materials used in our indoor environment can be. Experts are calling this case worse than the urea-formaldehyde crisis of the 1970s, houses built with this dry-wall have to be demolished. "We think this could literally turn out to be the worst case of sick houses in U.S. history," says Thomas Martin, president of America's Watchdog. Sick building syndrome is just as the name implies, people getting sick from their indoor environments. Yet despite the urea-formaldehyde insulation material crisis in the 70s, formaldehyde is still used in a majority of indoor building materials; particle board, MDF, (medium density fibreboard) fabrics, glues and paints, and most fiberglass insulation contain it. Formaldehyde is a suspected human carcinogen and new studies link it to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease. Many new green houses are now being built with rigid Styrofoam boards or closed cell polyurethane spray insulation products. According to the Green Science Policy Institute, all polystyrene foam insulation used in building is treated with hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) a persistent, bioaccumulating, and toxic flame retardant. This chemical is likely to be banned in Europe. It has been found in household dust, sewage sludge, breast milk and body fluids and well as wildlife and the global environment. Polyurethane contains TCPP (tris 1-chloro-2-propyl phosphate). Long term exposure to this chemical is unknown but it is known to be toxic in aquatic environments. Polyurethane can also contain up to five percent blowing agents which are usually volatile and/or halogenated hydrocarbons. This is just the tip of the iceberg of toxins that go into everyday building materials, including products used in green construction. This is because green is an umbrella term that is unregulated so you really have to do your research to know exactly what they mean by being “green”. According to Bob Berkebile of BNIM Architects and consultant to the Cascadia Green Building Council “We can no longer rely solely on the industrialized materials and building systems now in use given the enormity of their lifecycle impacts, embodied energy, and damage to the global climate. It is now critical that we invest in creating high performance, low-impact alternatives, including many traditional lower-tech building materials and systems. The utilization of local and minimally processed materials will be increasingly important as we develop a restoration economy for the 21st century.” We agree 110%.

The 1st International Hemp Building Symposium is a ‘call to action’ for natural building professionals from all over the world. We believe this method of building is only going to be bigger as people become more aware of the overall footprint of the building industry.

The Building Symposium is hosted by renowned Irish hemp construction expert, author of "Building With Hemp", Steve Allin and Jayeson Hendyrsan Canadian hemp building specialist.

The conference takes place Sept. 16-18 in Keamare, Ireland. We will be learning all that we can to bring back and get the ball moving to create some truly amazing organic sustainable living buildings. Stay tuned!!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Field day turns up the heat on hemp


It seems some people in 100 Mile House are having a field day with hemp — literally.

BC’s Industrial Hemp Field Day is happening here on Aug. 18, sponsored by the 100 Mile House Industrial Hemp Steering Committee as a means to showcase their accomplishments thus far.

It’s also a great chance to check out a local hemp operation, see how these fibre crops are growing in popularity and take part in interactive discussions on how to possibly position the community as a major player in BC’s hemp industry.

The field day will begin with a welcome and introduction by district Mayor Mitch Campsall and Donna Barnett, MLA for Cariboo-Chilcotin and chairperson for the steering committee.

After orientation, the group will hit the road for a field

trip to local hemp fields currently in production and get a feel for the agricultural elements of production — from crop rotation to recycling and managing of nutrient to where the product ends up in the market.

After returning to the district office for lunch, the field day will continue with presenters on topics of fibre processing, food processing, fibre applications and BC marketing potential.

The field day will be rich with information on the agri-nomic aspects for financial viability, says Erik Eising, project manager of the 100 Mile House Industrial Hemp Steering Committee, with plenty of opportunity for questions.

So who should attend? Eising says the material presented targets a wide variety of interests including crop production; alternative building methods; non-wood green construction materials; alternative bedding materials; community processing potential/rural development; horticulture and soil-less gardening; alternative fuels; and, last but not least, harvesting hemp for healthy oils and other food products.

“For this industrial hemp project, we are focusing on crop production, local processing and provincial marketing,” says Eising, who brings to the committee his own extensive experience on a global level in all these aspects of hemp production. “We encourage all producers and interested people to join in the field day activities on Tuesday.”

Eising added that it can be a low-tech, low-investment method of building a viable local industry the community can grow on.

The project is supported by Western Economic Diversification (WED), Northern Develop-ment Initiative Trust and the District of 100 Mile House in collaboration with local producers, Canim Lake Band and the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands.

Admission is free, but anyone planning on attending should call ahead and book their spot with Jenette Wallace at the district office, 250-395-2434 or e-mail her at jwallace@dist

Carole Rooney - 100 Mile House Free Press

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Real Green Building Challenge: Creating Policy That Works

Sarah Kuck/Worldchanging

epc-poster.jpg Green buildings are great, but the time for heralding each one as a symbol of sweeping change is over. To get our greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption under control, it's time to make green building the norm.

One way to fast-track this change is to create compelling policy. Governments across the globe are working to craft policy solutions that will rein in greenhouse gas emissions from the housing sector. One of the most well known is the United Kingdom's 10 year plan to take new buildings from non-regulated to carbon neutral. "Toward Carbon Neutral Development" provides for a gradual tightening of energy efficiency building regulations -- lowering acceptable carbon emissions by 25 percent in 2010, by 44 percent in 2013, and down to the zero carbon target by 2016.

It's important to pair standards, which raise the baseline, with policies that act as incentives, motivating people to strive for continuous improvement. One example that helps bring existing buildings up to speed, is a new rule in England and Wales that mandates that all properties sold or rented are required to have an energy efficiency check up. A qualified Domestic Energy Assessor tests the efficiency of the building based on size, age, layout and insulation. Afterward, each building owner receives an energy performance certificate, which must be shown to prospective buyers or tenants.

Other countries are now looking to follow suit. This spring, the European Union announced that it hopes to pass rules similar to the UK's, by the end of 2009 to make carbon-neutral buildings the norm by 2019. And across the pond, leaders in Ontario, Canada, recently passed the Green Energy Act, which places into law rules that will slowly ratchet up the energy performance requirements for basic Code Compliant buildings, effectively helping to lower the province's total emissions.

Policy is a powerful thing. Using it to put today's best building practices into place can help cut total emissions of carbon dioxide quickly, create new jobs and save home owners money that otherwise seeps through the cracks. Treating each green building as a special flower is getting us nowhere. Let's stop creating one-offs and start creating massive change through policy that's meaningful.

Image: UK Government Poster Campaign, October 2008.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Energy Management is Tomorrow’s Green Apartment Amenity

First Published: May 20, 2009

By Diana Mosher

The green movement has many of us rethinking everything from the fibers in the clothes we wear to the way we transport our groceries back from the supermarket. Now President Barack Obama has called for a new national standard for fuel efficiency that’s as strict as the California program and will set limits on climate-altering gases from cars and trucks. The rules—which would create a car and light truck fleet that’s 40 percent cleaner and more fuel-efficient by 2016—would go into effect in 2012. Click here for more details.

In the meantime, apartment companies continue looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprints. Energy management, which also reduces operating costs, is a meaningful place to start. Energy management techniques come in all shapes and sizes, according to speakers at the National Apartment Association’s inaugural Green Conference in Phoenix.

Panelists noted that energy management can save a property a few hundred dollars a year. The need for baseline tracking of energy usage is not new. But properties in numerous states are challenged when it comes to getting real time usage information from the utilities. Water bills are generally the most difficult.

While there are sophisticated technologies available, energy management doesn’t have to be high tech to be effective. Charlotte Matthews, vice president of sustainability, Related Companies, suggests that smaller properties can use a spreadsheet to determine usage and calculate expenses. “You can start seeing trends as you measure and track the data,” she says.

Matthews also suggests installing a shadow meter to compare your usage with what the utilities report—as well as purchasing energy in blocks at more desirable rates. This strategy can be especially successful when mixed-use properties are part of the equation.

Panelists also noted that in order for multifamily companies to profit from green initiatives, consumers need to want them. Matthews adds, “As energy becomes more expensive in New York City, we will soon have to post our buildings’ energy usage. [These expenditures] will be more transparent.” Remote HVAC, temperature control and lighting will allow renters to control remotely. Related predicts this will become a popular green amenity.

“We can become the utility provider and offer residents lower cost energy than the local utilities,” said Matthews. The arrangement would also result in a new way to generate ancillary income.

Expect to hear more about smart grid technology. A smart grid pilot program in Massachusetts will include multifamily customers in urban and suburban settings. And see how Xcel Energy is helping Boulder, Colo. to become the world’s first smart grid city by the end of 2009. In Austin, Texas, a number of high-tech companies have signed on to the smart-grid initiative, called the Pecan Street Project.

Green apartment living will get more marketing and play. But will multifamily residents be willing to pay a premium? Matthews thinks so. “We’re working on making green easier. In luxury projects, sustainability services will make it easier to live green. For example, residents will be able to more easily recycle clothes and batteries,” she says. “We are vetting ‘green’ dry cleaners, asking them about the ingredients in their solvents, whether they recycle their hangers, and so forth.”

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Beyond LEED: New Financial Study - Living Buildings Are Cost Effective


Today the Cascadia Green Building Council published their findings of a financial study of Living Buildings. The study -- officially named The Living Building Financial Study: The Effects of Climate, Building Type and Incentives on Creating the Buildings of Tomorrow -- is extensive and we're still going through all the details. But there's one major takeaway that I noticed: investing in Living Buildings is the financially smart thing to do, especially for institutions, corporations, and homeowners looking to hold on to their real property assets for more than a few years. The study was put together by Cascadia, SERA Architects, Skanska USA Building, Gerding Edlen Development, Interface Engineers, and the New Buildings Institute (referred to below as "contributors"). Let's look a little deeper.

What is a Living Building?

A Living Building is a LEED Platinum building on legal steriods. A Living Building goes beyond Platinum certification and into the realm of true sustainability. There is a Living Building Challenge rating system, which comprises six performance areas: Site, Energy, Materials, Water, Indoor Quality, and Beauty + Inspiration. In short, a Living Building is one that is elegant and efficient -- it generates all of its own energy and captures and treats all of its water. In North America, there are 60 proposed Living Buildings at some stage of design or actual construction.

LEED Gold to Living Building:

This study examines actual construction documentation for nine different building types, all of which have been certified at the LEED Gold level. There's single-family residential, multi-family residential, high-rise mixed use with residential, low-rise office, mid-rise office, mixed-use renovation, elementary school, university classroom, and hospital. Each of the nine buildings was also studied in four cities representing each of the four climate zones in North America: cool, temperate, hot humid, and hot arid.

Next, the construction documents were modified to meet the stringent goals of the Living Building Challenge, and the contributors then estimated the costs of such modifications. The contributors normalized the construction and development costs of all of the buildings to January 2009. Using these numbers, the contributors did a simple lifecycle cost analysis by comparing the baseline LEED Gold building costs to the Living Building modification costs on a net present value basis.

What the Study Actually Found:

The contributors found that Living Buildings can be built cost effectively in today's market economy given the rising costs of energy and water. More specifically, 24 of the 36 buildings had a payback of less than twenty years. Twenty years is quite long for most developers, but for project owners, such a time period may be perfectly in line with their financial goals. The actual degree of cost effectiveness, as determined by the study, depends on some of the following factors:

  • Client Type - Living Buildings are more likely to be built in market sectors that consider operational costs. Public buildings and schools will be more inclined to invest in Living Buildings, as opposed to speculative buildings.
  • Climate Intensity - Climate puts pressure on the demand for energy and availability of water. For instance, Boston's extreme temperatures demand higher heating and cooling costs, and Phoenix's low water availability makes it more expensive to collect and treat water.
  • Building Scale - For larger buildings, the cost premium for Living Building features relative to the total project cost is much less than with small projects.
  • Building Use Intensity - The primary and second uses of a building affect energy and water usage, which in turn affects the cost premium to build a Living Building.
  • Existence of Incentives - Various incentives for green building projects can dramatically reduce the first costs of a project, making them financially more viable.
  • Resource costs - Cities with high energy and water costs also have faster paybacks because the benefits of net zero energy and net zero water kick in.

Take these findings, and apply them to your locality. Lisa Petterson, SERA Architect's Manager of of Sustainability Resources, said: "The combined impact of Portland ’s mild climate, plus existing and upcoming incentives for green building and net zero energy projects, make the incremental costs [of a Living Building] almost zero." Portland's a go, but what about your city and project?

[=] The Living Building Financial Study - Executive Summary [PDF]
[=] Download the Cost Comparison Matrix and Full Report

Learn More About Living Buildings?

If you're interested in learning more about Living Buildings, make sure to sign up for Living Future 09, which is scheduled for May 6-8 in Portland, Oregon. Living Future is kind of like TED for the green building world. The conference is limited to 600 people, and as of this writing, only about 170 seats remain.

Photo note: The building pictured above is Eco-Laboratory, a concept Living Building that won the 2008 Natural Talent Design Competition at Greenbuild.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What Now, America?

Jill Ettinger

Like most Americans, I’ve been consumed with news about the circus our financial system has become, realizing this is probably just the first act of a much bigger show. And like many, I’ll admit my extremely limited knowledge of Wall Street dealings was never much of a concern to me. Yes, I’ve read Matt Taibbi’s enlightening piece in Rolling Stone (April 2009 issue) and Jake DeSantis’ resignation letter to AIG reprinted in the New York Times. I watch The Daily Show and even caught the hilarious latest episode of South Park where Stan tries desperately to return his father’s “Margaritaville” machine all the way down the line to the Treasury Department. And while I now have a much better understanding of what actually is happening to our economy, I’m even more confused as to what I should feel about it all. If I’m angry, who exactly am I angry with? Certainly the greedy criminals who gambled with millions of people's money deserve any and all punishment that comes their way, but weren’t most of their actions perfectly legal? Should I be disappointed at a political system that bends to lobbyists and corporations that bankroll elected officials so that they can continue doing the things that they’ve done? Should I be chagrined with myself and my fellow Americans for not really paying attention to what we were allowing to happen?

Perhaps because I grew up without much money, I learned to find wealth in things other than yachts, private jets, gaudy jewels or fur coats. I likened those possessions to movie-stuffs, not real goals for real people. I consider myself more of a laughing-listening-to the-birds-on-spring-mornings-singing-songs-in-the-sun kind of gal. Sure, this won’t pay the bills, but it won’t create new ones either. It feels more like a straight karmic exchange of finding incredible value in the simplicity of the moment, and I feel better and clearer and more connected to the world around me when the joys of life come without a price tag. My naivete about the wealthy people allowed me to believe they are philanthropists, spending their time volunteering at hospitals, not really out spending $3000 on a single pair of shoes. That is simply too preposterous to be true, in any economic state.

At times, I’ve had a comfortable amount of savings in the bank, affording me the options of going where I wanted, or buying what I needed from Whole Foods without worrying (too much) about the cost. But most often, I’ve lived needing a regular job just to keep a roof over my head. It seemed perfectly fine to me to measure my riches by waking up in a warm bed and having a hot shower and cup of tea every morning before I start my day. I’m painfully aware of the number of people in the world, and in our own country, who go without these things.

As the market keeps holding its breath, the industry I have made my living in has begun to show the first signs of slowing down since I started working in a food co-op eighteen years ago. My last job, doing marketing and promotions for a leading organic juice company, was eliminated a few weeks ago. It made perfectly legitimate sense to me: operations are key for a business to run effectively, and you must have sales people to keep revenue coming in, but marketing is abstract, hard to measure, especially when every single dollar feels more sacred than ever before. Admittedly, I felt somewhat relieved by the news. I had begun to question the very industry I’d literally grown up in.

From the time I was very young, I was quite particular about food. It’s never been clear to me (or anyone in my family) why I was like this. Maybe because I was the oldest there was some kind of entitlement issue, and I’m willing to accept that it’s possible there were times that I was just being a stubborn brat. But still, that would not explain why I felt horrified staring at the chicken leg on my plate, or why the smell of liver cooking was so repulsive that I impetuously ran out of the house barefoot and carelessly stepped on a bee who stung me. Once, in kindergarten, I was forced to sit in the cafeteria long after lunch had ended because I wouldn’t eat the piece of bread and butter my teacher insisted I eat. Butter has always tasted disgusting to me. I watch people thoroughly enjoy it and know I must be missing some gene or something that would make me hate such an apparently delicious food -- I Can't Believe I Hate Butter. In fact, I pretty much hate the smell, taste or texture of anything that was once part of an animal. This was true long before I understood what being sentient meant, or knew of the egregious conditions factory “farm” animals live in.

Out of necessity, by my late teenage years I found salvation at the East End Food Co-op in the Wilkinsburg section of Pittsburgh, PA. The co-op was (and still is) a community-owned Mecca for the highest quality organic and natural food options. I worked in the cafĂ© and loved learning how to prepare vegetarian foods that actually tasted good and were healthy for me. I knew I would not be able to sustain myself on French fries and salad as I had for most of my vegetarian years up to that point. As I became more familiar with the companies and products that surrounded me, my disdain for regular grocery store “food” grew. Yes, I became a food snob. It wasn’t intentional. It just sort of happened after being surrounded by such delicious, whole foods daily.

As the industry grew, so did the number of job openings, and I have been extremely fortunate to be offered one exciting opportunity after another. My first job outside of the retail store setting was as a natural products broker. I represented anywhere from 50-100 different brands at a time: from Clif Bars to Organic Valley, Guayaki to Boca Burgers, Yogi Tea to Earth Friendly cleaning products. We were the liaison between the manufacturer to the distributor and retailer. It was shocking to learn rather quickly that my die-hard organic flag-waving was a rarity in an industry of the same name. Various vendors would be riding along in my territory to visit accounts, and they’d want to go to Chili’s or some steak house instead of the salad bar at Whole Foods for lunch. It was horrifying and frustrating learning that people pulling a lot of weight in the business didn’t practice what they preached.

As the USDA organic certification came into effect in 2002, so did the number of brands promoting how-can-you-call-that-food-let-alone-organic products. I remember feeling not unlike I did as a child staring at dead bird parts on my plate while standing in Westerly’s market on 8th avenue in New York City staring at a display of what had to be five hundred boxes of Certified Organic Pop Tarts.

Something did not feel right.

I was so disenchanted by what was happening to the word -- and world of -- organic, that even though I felt everyone should have access to these foods, a Pop Tart would always be a Pop Tart and a Pop Tart, no way, no how should ever be considered food. In the same way the big food manufacturing giants had convinced us that eating “fortified” cereals and breads was as healthy as eating foods that still contain their actual nutrients, I could see the writing on the wall for organic: convincing shoppers that they were somehow taking care of themselves and their families with that Pop Tart because it was (gasp) organic.

Granted, many companies in the industry are not glorified organic junk food pushers. There are also slews of other attributes driving core values and missions of ethical and forward thinking manufacturers. Even Whole Foods has adopted a value system that includes: no high fructose corn syrup, no trans fats, and no artificial colors or flavors or preservatives. And many of the products also contain less salt, less sugar, no animal by-products or animal products processed with antibiotics, growth hormones or other awful factory farm ingredients you find in a bag of Doritos. Many companies go beyond organic and are certified fair-trade, ensuring the farmers and harvesters in less fortunate parts of the world are paid a livable wage. Many companies use 100% post-consumer recycled materials for their packaging, or have significantly reduced packaging altogether. Many companies support various non-profit organizations, foundations and missions dedicated to the betterment of our planet, people and future. There are dozens, if not hundreds of reasons to support a company that is aligned with the principles of being socially responsible. We do truly vote with our dollars. I reckon we’ve learned that lesson all too humbly these last few months.

All that being said, it doesn’t change the mess we’re in.

The other day, I was in line at the ATM machine at my local ShopRite supermarket. Shopping there is a change I made in my life as organic food started to become more mainstream. I opt to purchase as much of it as I can from the local conventional supermarkets in an effort to keep it accessible to the people who wouldn’t shop at a Whole Foods or co-op. And I guess in retrospect, the bubble I had been living in was getting too tight. I needed to see -- and possibly even buy -- the foods that most of America is living on. Even with organic’s explosive boom, sales represent less than 4% of total food purchased in this country. Less than 4%!

So I’m standing there patiently waiting, finding distraction in the giant Froot Loops cereal display I can see up ahead at the end of an aisle, when I realize this woman is taking an extra long time at the ATM. She’s about 45 or so, looks like she probably has a family and is trying card after card in the machine. I didn’t intend to read the screen, but it was one of those ATM’s that you find in a convenience mart and the screen was in plain view and well lit and I couldn’t help but see “insufficient funds” flash for her the two times I was paying attention. My heart sank. I wanted to give her my card or scream for help or say something sweet and kind that would make her feel better, but I just stood there, stunned and ashamed and watched her walk away.

I took some money from the ATM, but didn’t feel much like shopping. I couldn’t shake the image of this woman leaving the grocery store broke and hungry. The $30 or so I spent felt undeserved. Besides, I haven’t had much of an appetite lately anyway. Maybe she could have used my money and I could have skipped dinner that night. And this woman didn’t look like she just lost her life savings to Bernie Madoff. No, she looked more like a life-long victim of a system that separates the Haves from the Never-Wills at birth. She probably struggles to put food on the table even with a job or three, as so many Americans do. Her high-interest rate credit cards were tapped; maybe she was even out of work. Organic or not, she was probably only hoping that her food didn’t have to come from a dumpster that night.

As the urgency of finding steady income has become an unavoidable force I must reconcile, I have found myself at some sort of an impasse. The job I was let go from actually greatly confused me. I was responsible for marketing and promoting juices and frozen products made from a nutritious berry that only grows in Brazil, which is processed and frozen down in the Amazon and then shipped thousands of miles to the U.S. -- while staying frozen -- where it is then re-processed into juices and smoothies, bottled and shipped around the country still kept frozen. Sure it tastes good, and boasts many healthy benefits, but is all that really worth it? Just because a product has a checklist full of attributes like organic, sustainable and fair trade, does the excessive travel and processing ever really get cancelled out? I mean, if there are not good tasting, healthy foods growing within a few hundred miles of, well, anywhere, then we might have some seriously bigger problems to deal with than the economy.

I’ve been looking for work outside of the “industry,” but the truth is, it’s all I’ve really ever known. It feels strange to translate my skills for another platform that I'm not sure I'd even understand or care about at the end of the day. Even when I walk down the aisles of ShopRite or A+P, I can’t help but be drawn to the items that are organic despite my current state of confusion about the necessity of it all. So, this last month I’ve forced myself to purchase the cheapest versions of whatever I need, and as refined as I thought my pallet was, I honestly cannot taste a difference between an organic tomato sauce ($1.19 per can) and the private label non-organic brand (.59 a can). Carrots all seem to taste surprisingly like carrots. And though the taste is indistinguishable, there is a feeling that strikes me. Something deeply visceral confounds me every time I drop an item into my shopping basket, and I think of all sorts of things, like the farmers who benefit from my organic choices. Sparing them exposure to synthetic chemicals and fertilizers is the least I can do to offer my thanks to them for growing my food.

But when the choice comes down to eating organic or not eating at all, well, it’s not really a choice for any of us, now is it? I guess, unless we flip the picture so that organic, local and minimally processed becomes the great tasting, accessible norm. That future though, is still far away, if it exists at all. As it stands now, in the face of the turning economic tides, organic and specialty foods, no matter how much healthier they may be for us, feel like a luxury fit for the pallets of the decadent and greedy rather than for the 200,000 people laid off in February.

Despite the fact that we are currently a nation clipping coupons and making sacrifices, there are a number of reasons to support the growth of organic in our country. There is a parallel between the awakening we’ve had about the selfish greed on Wall Street and the slower one we’ve been resisting opening our eyes to in our grocery stores. The former was too removed and cerebral for a lot of people. Or at least we let ourselves think finance was something we couldn't understand. But I think we get it now. It was as ridiculous as it sounded. A “High Risk” 401K, really means it’s a high freaking risk, as in, “dealer takes all.” People didn’t pay attention to what was going on in the stock market because they didn’t think it directly affected them. And that’s not to say that if we had all been paying attention this wouldn’t have happened. But I think it means that we at least like to know when we’re being robbed. Give us a freaking chance to try and run or wrestle the gun out of your hands before we just give you our wallets. No, this was like pickpockets smiling in our face as they walked off with the American economy, got into private jets, and flew to their summer homes to stash our cash under the floor boards before the butler brings the caviar lunch.

Food of course is a much different issue. Everyone relates to food. We are essentially walking-talking-feeling containers of food, and what we choose to put inside of us becomes us. Literally. It is an identity in the most personal of ways. We abuse it and indulge it like the extension of our personal struggles that it most indeed is. But we also nurture it, raise it with love and respect. We sow it seed by seed in hopes that our grandchildren will one day eat from the trees our own two hands planted. And as hard as it may be to justify in a time when things are scary and even scarce, we’ve a choice now. Either we sacrifice our health, gambling it away by choosing the 2 liter bottle of Coca Cola because it's a dollar or two cheaper than the fresh juice today, but infinitely more costly for our health and our environment down the very short dead-end road ahead, or we choose to become a society that plants, nurtures, and eats for our future.

Like we’d have preferred the situation on Wall Street, we should all want and demand that in-our-face moment with the criminals who keep finding clever ways of telling us high fructose corn syrup is safe, and hydrogenated oils are fine, and that excessive amounts of salt taste great, and that downed cows make juicy burgers, and that eating raw, fresh fruits and vegetables is risky, but less so and definitely more delicious once they've visited a deep fry.

Food should reflect the real costs -- from the chemical exposure that gives cancer to farmers, to the thousands of fossil-fuel spewing miles it’s transported, to the layers and layers of processing that renders it no more nutritious than cardboard -- and then, perhaps, we’d realize that buying local, unprocessed and growing our own is what we’re designed for. It is all that we can afford.

When we realize that we are all the woman at the ATM hoping to find a card with some money left on it, and the small organic farmer sacrificing in order to survive against the big conventional (and organic) agri-farms that can sell for less cost as well as less taste and nutrition, maybe we'll begin to see ourselves as the nation we're supposed to be, so that we may find solutions and advance our world for the next generation. We can protect our assets and ourselves by being prudent and healthy, aware and wise. If we opt to treat our bodies the way we’ve let others treat our money, we will devolve ourselves into a weaker state of compliance and indifference, and let them do it again, and again. We’ve let status and money and make-believe ways of alienating ourselves from each other come to define us. But that’s not us, America. That isn't what we want anymore. Is it?

Photo by John Flinchbaugh, courtesy of Creative Commons license.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Stonehedge Bio-Resources to build industrial hemp processing facility

By Bryan Sims/Biomass Magazine/April 2009 Issue

Stonehedge Bio-Resources Inc. is looking to convert hemp into a viable biomass energy crop. In January, the Ontario-based company received $2 million from U.K. investors to construct an industrial hemp processing facility in Northumberland County, Ontario.

According to John Baker, founder and chairman of Stonehedge Bio-Resources, the company has been involved in the plant genetics and breeding of various hemp species for more than a decade, and has been commercializing the crop for myriad industrial uses for the past three years. “We have found that hemp has multiple uses as a biomass crop,” he said. “It can also sequester carbon and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.”

Baker anticipates breaking ground for the facility in April or May. Commissioning and start-up could begin within 12 to 15 months after that. The plant may employ up to 27 people within the next two years, he added.

Hemp straw would be sourced from an area of 15,000 to 20,000 acres within a 60-mile radius of the processing facility. The company’s equipment would be capable of processing approximately seven dry tons per hour, depending on the amount of shifts and downtime needed during its first year of operation. “We are aiming at an output of about 40,000 to 50,000 tons of hemp derived from 17,000 acres in our first year of operation, but it will take time to ramp up,” Baker said.

According to Baker, hemp is a desirable biomass feedstock due to its variety of applications in different industries. It could serve as a replacement for pink fiberglass insulation in houses; it could be used to produce “hemcrete,” a biobased masonry composite containing hemp and concrete; and it could be a biodegradable and recyclable fiber-based composite in automobile door panels.

Baker said the company will initially market hemp in Canada as a pelletized fuel that could be implemented at coal-fired plants looking to reduce their carbon footprints.

Stonehedge Bio-Resources may also look into hemp as a cellulosic ethanol feedstock due to the plant’s inherently high cellulosic value.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Green Building Still Set to Grow in 2009

In 2008 the U.S. market for "green" building materials generated sales of almost $57 billion, according to a study from the Freedonia Group, Inc., a Cleveland-based industry research firm. This market is projected to expand 7.2% annually to over $80 billion in 2013, outpacing the growth of building construction expenditures over that period.

Although green building materials are expected to account for an increasing
share of materials used, growth will be driven primarily by the recovery of the residential market through 2013 as it rises from its depressed 2008 level, notes Freedonia.

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified lumber and wood panels are expected to be the fastest growing green products, albeit from small bases. FSC-certified products are produced via environmentally responsible and socially beneficial forestry practices. As the supply of FSC-certified wood grows, demand for FSC-certified wood panels is projected to more than triple between 2008 and 2013, growing more than three times as fast as the overall market for wood panels.

Other products expected to see fast growth through 2013 include water-efficient plumbing fixtures and fittings, and energy-efficient lighting fixtures. Demand for each of these products is forecast to grow at a double-digit pace through 2013, but account for only a small share of total green building materials market. Over the forecast period, the greatest absolute gains will come from green floor coverings, the largest source of green building materials demand. Green carpets and flooring include Green Label Plus-certified carpets and products made from rapidly renewable resources (e.g., bamboo and cork flooring).

Concrete made from recycled materials (e.g., fly ash, blast furnace slag) had the second largest share of green building materials demand in 2008, accounting for over 15% of the market total. The use of recycled materials in concrete not only reduces the volume of waste sent to andfills, but often enhances the performance of the concrete. Going forward, demand for concrete made from recycled materials is forecast to grow 8.4% per year to $14.3 billion in 2013, accounting for an increasing share of total concrete used.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Global Possibilities

What if the world embodied our highest potential? What would it look like? As the structures of modern society crumble, is it enough to respond with the same tired solutions? Or are we being called to question a set of unexamined assumptions that form the very basis of our civilization?

This 25-minute "What Would It Look Like" video retrospective asks us to reflect on the state of the world and ourselves, and to listen more closely to what is being asked of us at this time of unprecedented global transformation.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Woody Tasch and the Slow Money Revolution

The venture capitalist talked to Plenty Magazine about his new book on “slow money,” building natural and social capital along with economic capital, how to measure abstractions, and what's wrong with the market today

By Ragan Sutterfield

We have been learning all about fast money. From the mortgage-backed securities with little grounding in reality to Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme, fast money has been showing its true self recently. Woody Tasch believes it's time to pull the reins back on fast money and create a market that values the environment, local communities, and the natural world as much as it does financial growth. His new book, Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered articulates this vision. A long-time venture capitalist and entrepreneur, Tasch knows Wall Street. He is putting that experience to work to create a different model of venture capital through a newly formed NGO called Slow Money, which will invest in companies that build natural and social capital as well as financial capital. Plenty spoke with Tasch by phone from his home in the mountains outside of Santa Fe, NM to talk about Slow Money, his new book, and his ideas for a new kind of economy.
PLENTYMAG.COM: What is "Slow Money"?

WOODY TASCH: Slow Money is an effort to create a new way of steering capital in support of local food systems. It is in part a reference to Slow Food, and it is also a reference to slow money as opposed to fast money—everyone is beginning to understand what that is.

As an organization we have two parts of our brain that we are trying to hold together. One is the NGO part, where we are holding a series of workshops around the country called Slow Money Institutes. We bring together stakeholders in the region—meaning food entrepreneurs, NGO leaders, farmers, and investors to talk about how we would invest slow money in that region. We are building up key stakeholders in eight regions of the country through the first six months of this year. This is in preparation for the deployment of the capital.

On the fund side, we are going to go to market early in 2009 to try to raise $50-to-100 million to deploy in a series of regional Slow Money venture funds as well as in a portfolio of some other leading sustainable food enterprises across the United States. It is a movement trying to build social capital in a region and a vision of what that can be, and then bringing in financial capital. So we are trying to do things in a different way by bringing in social capital before we bring in financial capital.

Part of the problem with the money economy has been its inability to value things that aren't easily measured or monetized, such as clean air, diverse small business, etc. How does Slow Money give value to market externalities?

E.F. Schumacher said that economics is a tool not an end, but we live in a time when economics has been made an end. In order to make it a means again we have to reassert meta-economic values. So you ask what are those values? Well they aren’t that hard to articulate. 99 out of 100 people would agree to what they are: It’s like motherhood and apple pie, it is healthy communities, healthy families, a better world for future generations, ethical behavior, moral responsibility.

So how you bring those things into financial life and capital markets is extremely tricky because capital markets were designed to screen all of that out. Why do we have the capital markets we have? We created these markets because of the particular historical juncture we were at the time. Capital markets and our version of modern corporations and shareholder entitlement and fiduciary responsibility all came from the same mindset that started around 1500, picked up steam during the Industrial Revolution, and took off in the last half of the 20th century. And it’s all about conquest and exploration and exploitation, extraction and consumption and economic growth and standards of living—all of those things together. We created a financial system that optimized for the flow of capital, reduced the risk to capital, and created ways for capital to flow quickly. At every stage we tried to optimize for faster and faster capital, so we could have more and more economic growth and more and more technological innovation, more risk taking, and more “progress” as defined by the economy.

Now we're at a new juncture, and we have to create a different set of capital markets. The current collapse is a warning sign that we can’t continue that historical model anymore. The words "restoration" and "preservation" for me capture the values proposition that you raised. We need to move from capital markets based on consumption and extraction to capital markets based on restoration and preservation. You can call the new markets values-driven, but I would say that they are just getting down-right practical. It’s just recognizing that where we are in history, we have to behave differently if we want to survive—much less live by higher ethical standards. The crucible of global warming and environmental degradation and terrorism and all of these nested issues basically collapses, in my opinion, survival instincts and ethics. I don’t think these things are different anymore. We just have to start acting differently for all kinds of reasons at the same time.

We are at the beginning of that invention process. How would we have a stock market that wasn’t built around maximum shareholder profits over the short term? How would we have companies that more explicitly gave away more of their profits to stakeholders rather than just to shareholders? I think these things are going to happen. There is a lot of energy out there for fundamentally realigning things.

You had a revelation when you heard Adam Werbach, the "sustainability consultant," talk about his work with Wal-Mart.

I was once at a meeting where I heard Adam Werbach talking about how he was working with Wal-Mart as a consultant to green Wal-Mart and how important this was, and someone in the audience stood up and said, “If Wal-Mart really wants to be so green why does it have to keep growing as a company? I don’t understand how a company can be green if it is pursuing unlimited growth.” And that prompted Adam Werbach to answer, “The market demands growth.” That was his answer!

There was something about that exchange that made me act differently from how I had acted before when I had heard exchanges like that. I went home and I said, "Damn it, then we have to create a different kind of market." It’s very obvious. The old market—the market we inherited from the industrial revolution and from the robber barons—demands growth. So let’s create another market and the new market doesn’t have to be against growth, it’s just against unlimited growth that goes beyond the limits of natural and social capital.

In certain communities at certain times, growth is synonymous with progress. At other times, it’s synonymous with congestion and sprawl and overheating and speculation. The idea that the market demands growth is just a blank check for every investor and every company to go out and pursue maximum growth; it's patently absurd. So we need to create another market where other factors are valued by the investors and entrepreneurs who want to play in that market.

This new kind of market is where the Patagonias of the world would live: The thousands of values-driven companies out there that would love to have liquidity and more access to capital, but don’t want to become a multinational company and don’t want to put themselves on the block for acquisition by global corporations. So we have to create a way for them to connect with the many millions of investors who would love to invest in a company like that. And I assert that over time there will be lots of investors who want to play there, and whether they will make as much money as companies that are mining and making armaments and making cars—these investors and entrepreneurs won’t care. They’ll be happy to put some of their time, money, and energy into this market, knowing that it is a lower financial return, because they’ll know it is the right thing to do.

Another theme in the book was the need for a nonviolent economy. You wrote that agriculture can provide the ground for that. What did you mean?

In a recent interview on TV, Bill Gates talked about what a miracle modern agriculture is because only one or two million Americans can feed the whole country. Modern agriculture is often called a miracle because of that, and because of the fact that our supermarkets are filled with a zillion products that didn’t exist a generation ago and seem to last a long time on the shelf and are pretty cheap in general. So people say, "What’s the problem? We have lots of food, lots of variety, and not very many people producing it—it’s a miracle!"

But the modern agricultural system has had enormously violent consequences when measured in things like the destruction of rural economies, the destruction of rural culture, the loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, and unsustainable patterns of rural-to-urban migration. When you look at all of these things, the miracle of modern agriculture doesn’t seem to be such a miracle anymore. We have to look at all of these factors when we assess modern agriculture’s successes.

The process that led to modern agriculture was about 10,000 years in the making. During all that process we have never had sustainable agriculture. We’ve sort of hopscotched our way to greater amounts of food and more material wealth. We kept borrowing from the future each step of the way; we just got much cleverer at our borrowing—using petrochemicals and technology. Now we are experiencing the limits of all of that on a global level.

But the next question would be: Can we really feed everyone without industrial agriculture? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that we have to get away from petrochemicals and synthetic fertilizers that destroy soil fertility. That’s part of the answer. Another part is that the majority of the grain in this country is fed to animals. It takes many pounds of grain for that animal to gain a pound of meat, and that process is also incredibly water-intensive. So it's obvious that there is more than enough capacity to grow food. We are just using it in an enormously wasteful way.

The burden doesn’t need to be on those of us who are saying we need more local and sustainable agriculture. Clearly the industrial agricultural system can’t solve all of our problems. The first attempts aren’t perfect, it’s hard, but we have to acknowledge that we have to do things differently now in the face of the global environmental, financial, and social crises we face.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Hemp, Hemp, Hooray!!!

Many people, including U.S. President Barack Obama are looking to Europe to inspire new ways of building and renovating homes in North America. With Obama's new Green Stimulus package now passing, this call for high efficiency in government and public housing could have a ripple effect all across North America. We are currently researching a new building technique already being used in Europe using industrial hemp fiber that could revolutionize the building industry here and use what's basically a waste product from hemp farms all across the prairies. Two companies, Naturally Advanced Technologies and Stonehenge Bio-Resources are investing heavily in industrial hemp for commercial and industrial uses in Canada. It will be interesting to see what comes about, and we are going to stay on top of it. Keep visiting to find out more.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

GREEN: Hope. Leadership. Change.

Emily Jubenvill |


At the beginning of the American election race, it seemed that both John McCain and Barack Obama could bring desperately needed action to the climate change agenda. However, soon enough it was apparent that only one of them was true to his word.

“McCain re-entered the fold of the Republican orthodoxy, chanting ‘Drill, baby, drill’ along with the best of the fossil-fuel enthusiasts, while Obama built a compelling program around alternative-energy investment to create viable green jobs…” Bryan Walsh, Time magazine

Obama sent a powerful message: leadership, climate change, environmental justice and social justice. He brought hope to America and the world—a President in the White House that was not afraid to listen and implement our vision for a better world. A vision crafted at kitchen tables, not in corporate boardrooms.

My reaction to President Obama, as for many other Canadians, is intense and passionate. A thirst has been satiated; someone is listening. I don’t know about you, but I feel like my identification as a Canadian is perilously perched on the edge of humiliation. The direction of our country does not represent my values—particularly when it comes to climate change. Since when is Canada an irresponsible international citizen?

The Prime Minister and his sweater. He likes cats.
Obama's leadership on CO2 emissions
reductions speaks to Canadians more
than Harper’s sweaters.

Canada (i.e. Prime Minister Stephen Harper) did a great job of rolling over and playing fetch for the Bush administration. We’ve been trained to know that policy shifts in the States will be reflected at home. Once humiliated and outraged at how far our country was willing to follow America (insert shock of Bali here), now I hope we continue to follow their lead. If America can cut their greenhouse gas (GHG) emission to 1990 levels by 2020, and then cut them again by 80 percent by 2050, Canada can too. That means clean energy, green-collared jobs, new energy and transit infrastructure, and much more. President Obama brings strong leadership in a new direction; Canadians have rallied behind him, craving that leadership, charisma and vision. He speaks to us more than Harper’s sweaters.

As I am writing this, Obama is preparing for his first official visit to Canada as the President of the United States of America. There are many items on the agenda for his trip, one of which is particularly close to my heart: the tar sands. Oil from the tar sands emits about three times as many GHG emissions are “regular” oil, consumes enormous amounts of water, is responsible for an Ireland-sized bald spot in the Boreal forest and has so contaminated drinking water as to create a toxic soup for many First Nations communities.

If the tar sands do not wholly embody “dirty oil,” then I don't know what does. President Obama made a promise to end America’s addiction to dirty oil. Today, Canada is the largest exporter of petroleum to the United States.

”The tar sands issue is one of many ‘ground zero’ locations that Obama must navigate with courage if he is to deliver on his promise to lead the world to global warming solutions. Canada is betting its economic future on tar sands development. Tar sands are the key to the endless fossil future being envisaged by the oil juggernauts; and the lynchpin of the national energy security strategy put in place by Dick Cheney.

“It’s not anything [that] can be turned off entirely, but it can be limited; and unless Obama takes a stand to do so, the U.S. itself will fall like just another domino to the consequences of an insatiable addiction to oil: there will be no stopping tar sands development…” —David Sassoon,

What if Obama says “no” to tar sands oil? B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell and Harper are working on an escape plan—the pipelines of course! That’s right, pipe the tar sands oil and gas over the mountains and across B.C.—we can ship it to India and China if the USA won’t take it.

“The Enbridge project would carry more than a third of the tar sands’ current 1.4-million-barrel daily production. Producing those barrels would create 15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year; burning that fuel would emit 60 million tonnes more…” —David Beers, The Globe & Mail

How is that a solution to climate change? Isn’t Campbell supposed to be some kind of environmental guru with his carbon tax and climate action plan? Actions speak louder then words. These pipelines mean that oil tanker traffic will be travelling down the precarious Inside Passage, through Hecate Strait and up Douglas Channel (where the Queen of the North sank), to Kitimat. When (not if) the inevitable oil spill(s) hit, at stake are pristine wilderness, critical habitat and cultural lands established long before our oil addiction began. Obama can say “yes” or “no” to the tar sands, but leaving it up to him will not solve our problems (and the tar sands are one of many).

Canadians see hope in what the new president has achieved in being elected, and what he is capable of achieving in office. Undoubtedly, Obama’s policy decisions will shape the future of North America’s economy and climate.

As young people, we can root and cheer for Obama all we want, but it is our apathy that in part has lead to where we are today. We need a leader of our own who inspires change and hope!

How can we use the energy and inspiration of Obama that is still fresh in our hearts and minds to take a stand in Canada? People that I’ve never seen interested in politics or picking sides, raised their voices and stood up for Obama—he has galvanized our county’s youth (something no Canadian politician in my memory has done). Now is the time for Canadians to demand a higher caliber of public servant—we need to earn an Obama of our own. We need to share our vision of a bright future—and demand it from our leaders.

Map of proposed Enbridge Pipeline, courtesy Dogwood InitiativeMap of proposed Enbridge Pipeline: Premier Campbell and Prime Minister Harper support infrastructure to pipe the tar sands oil and gas over the mountains and across B.C. so it can be shipped to India and China if the U.S. won’t take it. (Map courtesy of the Dogwood Initiative)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

7 Fixes from the Green Economy

Bold solutions from the green economy are the antidote to the broken economy—and can repair the damage and create a world that works for all.

Economy Everyone now understands that the economy is broken. What our members and readers have known for years— that the economy is not working for people and the planet—is now playing out on Wall Street and Main Street every day.

While many name the mortgage and credit-default-swap crises as culprits, they are only the most recent results of an economy with fatal design flaws. These design defects range from a dependence on growth, consumerism, and the structure of money to the short-term focus of today’s markets, and policy goals that are focused on growing Gross National Product. Yet, when GNP growth includes a whole set of “bads”—from sweatshop labor to manufacturing toxic chemicals—every dollar of GNP growth actually reduces wellbeing for people and the planet.

Taken together, these fatal flaws systematically create economic injustice, poverty, and environmental crises.

It doesn’t have to be that way. The green economy offers solutions that are the antidote to the current breakdown.

Green America members have been trailblazers for green economic solutions for years. We now have a teachable moment to be bold in stepping up with these solutions for long-term change toward sustainability—and helping people through tough times. Now these green economy solutions are more important than ever.

Simply put, we need to move from greed to green.

Here are seven green economy solutions to today’s economic mess.

1. Green Energy—Green Jobs
A crucial starting place to rejuvenate our economy is to focus on energy—for the sake of the economy and the environment. It is time to call in the superheroes of the green energy revolution—energy efficiency, solar and wind power, and plug-in hybrids—and put their synergies to work with rapid, largescale deployment. This is a powerful way to jumpstart the economy, energy independence, job creation (with jobs that can’t be outsourced), and the victory over the climate crisis. The five green-energy keys are rapid, large-scale deployment of:

• Energy efficiency—moving toward 50 percent savings in five years.

• Solar and wind—getting to an all-renewable electric grid.

• Plug-in electric hybrid vehicles (PHEVs)—getting to at least 20 percent of the US vehicle fleet in ten years.

• Smart grid—rebuilding our aging electric grid with a smart grid that makes it easy to scale up energy efficiency and renewables.

• New national and state electric utility regulation and building codes that make it easy to scale up with efficiency, renewables, and PHEVs.

This year, Green America is launching Project LEAP—our Low-carbon Energy Acceleration Plan—to show how to combine these superheroes for real economic prosperity, energy security, and 80–90 percent greenhouse gas reduction. We shared this with our allies on President Obama’s incoming team (along with our idea for the financing mechanism; see #2 below). But you don’t have to wait for Washington—use Green America resources to get started today:

• Guide to Efficiency First!
• Solar how-to articles, and interviews with the solar leaders of our Green Busienss Network™
Solar High Impact National Energy (SHINE) Plan. [PDF]
Utility Solar Assessment (USA) Study. [PDF]

2. Clean Energy Victory Bonds
How are we going to pay for this green energy revolution? Green America and our allies at Clean Edge propose Clean Energy Victory Bonds. Modeled after victory bonds in World War II, Americans would buy these bonds from the federal government to invest in large-scale deployment of green energy projects, with particular emphasis in low-income communities that are hardest hit by the broken economy. These would be long-term bonds, which would pay an annual interest rate, based in part on the energy and energy savings that the bonds generate. During WWII, Americans bought over $185 billion in bonds—that would be almost $2 trillion in today’s dollars.

Millions of people are looking for a way to help the country right now. During the townhall- style presidential debate, one person posed this question to the then-candidates: "What would you ask us to do?"

Green America’s answer: Invest in Clean Energy Victory Bonds so our country can start building the clean-energy infrastructure and get people to work in good, green jobs, right now.

Sign up for the Green America e-newsletter to help advance these and our other green energy policy measures all year long.

3. Reduce, Reuse, Rethink
Living lightly on the Earth, saving resources and money, reducing inequality, and sharing —jobs, property, ideas, and opportunities—are the principles crucial to restructuring our economy. This economic breakdown is, in part, due to living beyond our means—as a nation and, in too many cases, as individuals. With the enormous national and consumer debt weighing us down, we won’t be able to spend our way out of this economic problem. From planting gardens to conserving energy to swapping clothes to making gifts—these green economy basics will help us move to an economy that works for all.

As Dr. Juliet Schor, economist and author, puts it, “We’ve lost the ability to profitably ... grow our way out of recession. The usual kinds of consumer spending (cars, electronics, furniture, apparel, travel) degrade vital eco-systems and have an economic cost. Business-as-usual puts us deeper into an economic hole.”

Ultimately, we need an economy that’s not dependent on growth and consumerism. So it’s time to rethink living over-consumptive lifestyles, and turn to the principles of elegant simplicity—what Green Americans have known all along.

4. Go Green, Fair Trade, and Local
When we do buy, it is essential that those purchases shift from the conventional economy to the green and local economy—so that every dollar helps solve social and environmental problems, not create them. What we spend our money on—and refuse to buy—does matter. Expanding the green economy is fundamental to the transition to an economy that works for people and the planet. Moving dollars away from conventional agribusiness and toward supporting local workers and local, organic farmers creates more justice and sustainability.

Use the National Green Pages to make as many of your purchases as possible from the green economy. Turn to Green America all year long for ways to be intentional with your money—to help create a better economy with the choices you make every day.

5. Community Investing
All over the county, community investing banks, credit unions, and loan funds that serve hardhit communities are strong, while the biggest banks—from Washington Mutual to CitiGroup —required bailouts. The basic principles of community investing keep the community investing institutions strong: Lenders and borrowers know each other. Lenders invest in the success of their borrowers—with training and technical assistance along with loans. And the people who provide the capital to the lenders expect reasonable, not speculative, rates of return. If all banks followed these principles, the economy wouldn’t be in the mess it’s in today.

You can provide capital to community investing banks and credit unions—it’s as easy as opening a federally insured account. Check out the community investing section of our Web site to get started.

6. Shareowner Activism
When you own stock, you are a shareowner and have the right and responsibility to advise management to clean up its act. Had General Motors listened to its activist shareholders, it would have invested in the efficient and electric cars that would have prevented the need for a bailout from bankruptcy. Had CitiGroup listened to its activist shareowners, it would have steered clear of the faulty mortgage practices that brought it to its knees. Activist shareholders are key to reforming companies—from jumpstarting them on the energy revolution to addressing executive compensation to stopping the corruption created by corporate lobbying—for the transition to the new economy. Let’s up the ante.

7. Building Community
“Whatever the problem,” says Dr. Lynnaea Lumbard, psychologist and interfaith minister, “community is the answer.” Connected, resilient communities help people get through tough times—and celebrate during good times. Now is the time to get started. Get to know your neighbors. Do a neighborhood skills inventory—so people can help each other fix their roofs, repair their bikes, mend a torn coat—saving money and building community. Plan a community garden, a neighborhood garage sale, or clothing swap. Start a dinner or home improvement co-op. (Get more ideas and learn more here.)

The Time is Now
It looks like we have a huge opportunity on our hands—a global economic breakdown that is teaching us that we are all interdependent. There’s no “there” to escape to, so we all might as well figure out how to live together —and transition our economy to one that protects vulnerable people and our vulnerable planet. Stay tuned to Real Green all year long. We look forward to working with you on turning today’s problems into opportunities for a more just, sustainable, and joyful world.

Alisa Gravitz