Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

All the best in 2011. If there's just one video you should going into the year, let it be this one; it's spectacular. Then google "Biomimicry" :) you'll be glad y0u did!

Fixing the Future

In this one-hour PBS special, Host David Brancaccio visits communities across America using innovative approaches to create jobs and build prosperity in the new economy.

Watch the full episode. See more NOW on PBS.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

James Howard Kunstler dissects suburbia

One of my fave TED talks; although not new (from 2004) there's still a lot we can learn from his thoughts presented in the presentation, that is: public spaces should be inspired centres of civic life and the physical manifestation of the common good. Instead, what he argues, is we have places not worth caring about.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Humanity's Crossroads: Integrating Science and Cosmology

This time of year always brings with it interesting conversation regarding the different worldviews out there and much of the dogma that comes with them. But what if we could take the best from both views; and stop arguing about evolution vs. intelligent design once and for all. Just a thought? Mary Evelyn Tucker talks Integrating Science and Cosmology. You can also alternatively listen to the complete 25 minute highly enlightening interview on the GOP website. (

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Why Resilience Beats Sustainability - Rob Hopkins on Transition in the City (Video)

"I think, for me, in the times we are moving into now the concept or resilience is a much more useful idea than that of sustainability. Sustainability implies that we are trying to design a steady-state system with less inputs and less outputs than we have at the moment, which can carry on indefinitely. Whereas actually what we need to be designing for is the ability to withstand shock. But a lot of the literature about resilience talks about it meaning that a system can take shock, and then reform into its previous state. Whereas increasingly, the way people are starting to look at it, it's about seeing that shock as an opportunity to change."

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Yard Pod Made Out of Hemp

One of the companies and projects I'm lucky enough to be a part of. Our yard pod prototype is made with all organic and local industrial hemp fibre combined with a locally-sourced hydrated lime binder with some other non-toxic pozzolans. We are working on a few larger projects next year including a tiny house and a home retrofit which we are very excited about. Visit for more info.

Friday, December 10, 2010

New Book explores our personal connection to the environment

SEATTLE, WA., November 15, 2010—Ecotone Publishing, the industry’s first exclusive green architecture and design publisher, today announced the release of a new book, ZUGUNRUHE – The Inner Migration to Profound Environmental Change, authored by internationally acclaimed green design visionary Jason F. McLennan. Just prior to periods of great migration, certain species display agitation and restlessness - a
phenomenon referred to by scientists as ‘zugunruhe’. McLennan identifies a similar pattern emerging among people yearning for a sustainable future. This book is intended as a catalyst for anyone interested in exploring a deeper, more meaningful connection to the environmental movement. “Zugunruhe is a work of creative genius that draws us into an engaging journey of self-discovery, brings the biggest and most frightening issues of our time up close, and invites our engagement,” notes David Korten, “It will leave you envisioning human possibilities you never previously imagined.” Profound, personal and practical, McLennan’s narrative reminds us that individual efforts ripple outward and can lead to revolutionary change for the betterment of people and planet.
ZUGUNRUHE – The Inner Migration to Profound Environmental Change (ISBN
978-0-9749033-2-3)is available online and at architecture and building bookstores throughout North America. Foreword by renowned natural sciences writer, and author of Biomimicry, Janine Benyus. For more information, excerpts or to order the book, please visit

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Framing For Change: How We Tell Our Story Matters

How we tell the story of a better world matters—and the best way is to live the alternatives we advocate.

by Doyle Canning, Patrick Reinsborough

The Deepwater Horizon explosion: Did it cause a familiar "spill" or a massive disaster? It's all in the framing.

These days, the big issues of our time are digested and disseminated by cable news, internet blogs, and tweets—and repeated by everyday people in our common conversations. But the choices about how that digestion happens—about how big stories are packaged into little sound-bytes that people spread—are strategic decisions loaded with political power. Consider:

Gulf Oil Spill vs. BP’s Blowout Disaster
Iraq Draw Down vs. Ongoing Occupation
Illegal Immigrants vs. Migrant Workers’ Rights
Ground Zero Mosque vs. Religious Freedom

This is the critical and often invisible work of framing, and of making memes—the viral frames that spread from person to person and shape the narratives that define our political landscape.

Along with our opposable thumbs, human beings are unique in our narrative nature. We are narrative animals who process our experiences through the lens of story, and pass on our stories through memes: symbols, rituals, songs, or images. Memes are self-replicating units of culture that morph over time and spread without attributing authorship—from rituals like putting candles on your birthday cake or tying a yellow ribbon around the oak tree to sound-bytes that shape the political debate, like “Too Big to Fail” or “Green Jobs.”
Effectively framing for change means intentionally setting the terms of the debate, and shifting power and possibility in the story.

The creation of potent memes has been always been central to the work of shifting the dominant culture: whether its using symbols like the peace sign, teaching new practices like recycling, or packaging new ideas for a better world—like “living wage” or “fair trade.” As a meme spreads it often carries a specific framing. A frame is the overarching perspective or larger idea that shapes our interpretation. You can think of the frame as the edges of the television screen or the rims of the eyeglasses—it’s what defines what and who is in the story and what it all means. What is left out of the frame is as important as what is inside the frame. And most importantly for those of us working for justice and change, the frame defines who has power in the story.

Collective, cultural stories are embedded with powerful frames that define cultural norms and shape common perceptions of what’s possible. The mythologies and memes of Plymouth Rock, Manifest Destiny, 40 Acres and a Mule, and the American Dream are the narratives of the past—but they continue to haunt our political discourse today. When we are working to change the dominant stories about racism, immigration, war, and protecting the planet, these narratives are already in peoples’ minds, acting as filters to social change messages, and often limiting a collective sense of possibility.

Effectively framing for change means intentionally setting the terms of the debate, and shifting power and possibility in the story. Perhaps our framing amplifies the perspective of previously marginalized characters, reveals hidden impacts, or highlights a better alternative. As a new story is told, the meaning shifts and people draw different conclusions...

As the old advertising industry mantra says, “People can only go somewhere that they have already been in their minds.” The same is true for social change stories. Effective framing often foreshadows a specific future, subtly defining or redefining what is politically acceptable. The power holder’s side of the story often relies on the belief that change can’t happen, and the status quo is the only way. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher even coined an acronym to define this tactic: TINA—There Is No Alternative.

What better way to challenge this common myth then making the abundance of alternatives real and visible? Framing for change is often as simple as manifesting the changes we need: The residents’ occupation of the public housing office transforms it into a day care center… The abandoned city lot becomes a community garden… The site of the planned juvenile prison becomes a playground…

"Framing for change is often as simple as manifesting the changes we need."

In the place of the failed narratives of U.S. empire, assimilation, and corporate monoculture, a multitude of new stories are taking root. Inspiring campaigns of resistance and transformation are underway in countless communities, and social movements are quite literally changing the stories that structure our lives, and thereby changing the story of our future. Around the world, there is a contest to frame the story—will the dominant narratives justify exploitation, destruction and conquest, or encourage ordinary people to take the side of the Earth, humanity and hope?

All of us have a part to play in these ongoing framing efforts. As we discuss the events of the day and spread our stories of positive change, it is up to all of us to chose our memes wisely, and to tell the story that reflects our values and frames the future we really want. Humanity’s greatest gift is our power to create images and frame ideas so let’s be smart about how use it…Psst, Pass it on!

Doyle Canning and Patrick Reinsborough wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Doyle and Patrick are strategists with the smartMeme Strategy and Training Project and co-authors of Re:Imagining Change – How To Use Story-Based Strategy to Win Campaigns, Build Movements, and Change the World (PM Press, 2010).

Friday, April 2, 2010

Education for the New Economy

Instead of preparing students for outdated jobs, how can we teach them to build a better world? Education for the New Economy

The challenge of building a new economy proposes particular challenges for our educational system. On January 29, 2010, visionary David Korten spoke to the Education for Sustainable Development Conference in Stockholm, Sweden about how to meet those challenges.

You can read his remarks here:
The New Economy Challenge: Implications for Higher Education

Friday, March 5, 2010


Via Jetson Green blog

When you buy a house, there’s no clear way to know what you’re getting. There’s no miles per gallon sticker, as with cars, or nutrition label, as with foods. You’ll pay for an inspection and walk through the place any number of times, but you definitely can’t see through the walls. It’s strange that we allow ourselves to spend, or mortgage, so much with so little information.

But recently, we’ve seen several efforts to change this. Michelle Kaufmann once released a white paper on nutrition labels for homes, and the climate bill from last year included a building energy labeling provision. Local legislators are even looking at requiring property sellers to provide energy audit data to purchasers upon listing or prior to sale.

In the Pacific Northwest, momentum is building for the Energy Performance Score, which was conceived by the folks at the Earth Advantage Institute. The non-profit company, you may recall, published a list of green building trends for 2010 and one trend was energy labeling on homes and office buildings.

EPS is a rating of the total energy consumption of a home with an associated carbon emission score. To get the score, a trained professional conducts an EPS audit by collecting utility bill information; measuring and sketching the home; recording window type and shading, insulation values, exterior and interior lighting fixtures, and appliances; inspecting ducts; and performing a blower door test.

Picture above is a snapshot of the EPS scorecard, and you can view the rest of the information here [PDF].

In a recent press release, Earth Advantage Institute says task forces have been created by Oregon and Washington legislatures to explore the potential for mandatory energy labeling at the time of listing a property for sale. Already, Oregon is using EPS voluntarily for new homes, while Seattle is testing a 5,000-home pilot for existing residences.

Tom Bruenig, director of communications and marketing for the Earth Advantage Institute, recently explained to Jetson Green how EPS is used in the Pacific Northwest. Currently, in Oregon, the Energy Trust of Oregon pays for the cost of the EPS audit on new homes, while in Seattle, the city pays for most of the cost of the EPS audit and the homeowner pays $95.00. The cost of an EPS audit is about half that of a HERS audit.

On the federal level, in September 2009, the EPA and DOE entered into a memorandum of understanding, which includes a plan to create a building energy labeling scheme to compare actual energy use of existing buildings. Bruenig tells us that Earth Advantage Institute has met with these agencies to share the successes of EPS.

So we see support brewing for EPS and building energy labeling at the local, state, and federal levels. There’s a lot of movement here. Once the building energy label gets rolling, at some point, we’d like to see water data included on the same label, but we’ll see where things go for now.

If you like EPS and want to support the program, it’s in the running as a finalist for America’s Top Ten Best Ideas for America at, where you can vote to push it to the top.

Media credit: Earth Advantage Institute.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Permaculture Ecotourism–An Exploration of Rancho Margot in El Castillo, Costa Rica

By Scott Cooney | January 26th, 2010
When the area around Lake Arenal, Costa Rica, was deforested to make room for “McCattle”, little planning was done for the sustainable use of the land. It’s the same old story, and one that has played itself out for decades in central America–demand for cheap beef in the United States has driven the destruction of much of the isthmus’ rainforests, and with typically thin soils, steep topography, and slow growing forests, the land does not recover after a few years of cattle grazing, but rather more resembles desert grasslands that are bereft of the area’s historic biological diversity.

Thanks to ecotourism and perhaps to carbon credits and offsets purchased elsewhere, many efforts are underway to reforest much of this land lost to cattle ranching. Costa Rica’s Institute of Tourism (ICT–Instituto Costaricense de Torismo) provides guidelines for a Certificate of Sustainable Tourism. One of the facets of this certification is that a company or organization wishing to participate can earn points toward their certification by reforesting their land and surrounding hillsides.

6 years ago, the Sostheim family saw a piece of land, roughly 400 acres, that sat on the bank of Lake Arenal near El Castillo, and thought they could make some terrific things happen. Rancho Margot was born: a self-sufficient ranch, organic farm, and ecotourism destination. It is completely off-grid, both in terms of water and electricity, and produces about 85 percent of the food that is eaten by the workers, family, and customers served in the farm’s restaurant. It’s as close to completely self-sufficient as anything I’d heard of, so I recently paid a visit to Rancho Margot to see firsthand the nexus of ecotourism and permaculture.

The ranch is blessed, as is much of Costa Rica, with amazing natural resources, even despite the historical destruction by cattle. Perhaps most importantly, the ranch has a perennial, fast flowing tributary of the Rio Cano which provides it with fresh water and hydroelectric power. Two micro-scale hydroelectric plants divert some water from the stream, and with a gravity feed, pipe the diverted water into a turbine that produces electricity and immediately dispenses the water back into the stream. A fish swimming upstream might barely notice that half the water volume is diverted for a short length. Each of these two stations must have its filters cleaned every 3-4 days to remove a significant amount of organic debris, mostly consisting of leaves, twigs, branches, and decomposing soil matter.

The staff at Rancho Margot has worked hard to plant trees throughout the property. Many of these are fruit trees: bread fruit, banana, plantain, papaya, mango, avocado, and the like pepper the grounds of the ranch. In addition, there are many plants that provide benefits, such as the Cat Tail plant, which produces nectar all day, which is good for attracting a variety of pollinators, like birds, bees, bats, and many other kinds of insect.

The ranch has dairy cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, a vegetable garden, and a medicinal herb garden, all of which are organic and beyond. Great care is taken to use every “resource” produced by these livestock. Solid manure from the cows and pigs is brought to a segmented holding area, where worms have their way with it, and in 2 months it is akin to soil in terms of texture, feel and smell (yes, I mushed it around in my hand to make sure…that’s how dedicated your Triple Pundit writers are). After 2 months here, it is moved to another area where it is added to the organic waste, such as coffee grinds, hay, and vegetable clippings. In this area, it is deposited over 2 kilometers of piping, where water from the stream flows through the decomposing material. It’s fundamentally a cogeneration plant, where the water gets heated for the ranch’s showers, heated swimming pool, and other uses, but also keeps the compost from getting too hot, which would destroy beneficial bacteria and fungi. This creates a lot of work, where workers have to be careful not to damage the pipes as they remove an incredible pile of terrific soil from the 2 km of circuitous piping by hand and shovel. Liquid waste from the animals is taken to the biodigestor, where off-gassing methane is gathered and used as cooking gas.

Soap is processed from a variety of resources on the farm, including byproducts of meat production, and pumice from the nearby hills and used coffee grinds as exfoliants.

Two species of pigs, the traditional white pigs, plus the native black pigs of Costa Rica, provide food for workers and ranch guests, as do the 300+ chickens on site, also of two species. The organic vegetable garden, which contains beets, carrots, celery, lettuce, green beans, cabbage, and a variety of other crops, and the medicinal herb garden, which contained three species of mint, basil, rosemary, cilantro, thyme, and quite a few more, also require immense amounts of work and upkeep.

To ward off insects, the ranch creates its own insect repellents. As the guide so accurately described, pests adapt quickly to pesticides, requiring newer and harsher pesticides to be developed all the time. The ranch simply creates these repellents (the guide, also very accurately, described them straightforwardly as nothing that kills bugs, it is simply a deterrent) from flowers and herbs grown on site that have natural insect repellent characteristics. They make 6-8 types of repellent and rotate them around the ranch. The guide said these do a remarkable job of keeping pest damage to a minimum.

Ranch staff harvest humus from the surrounding hillsides and breed microorganisms from it, adding water and molasses as microbe food, and apply this liquid around the animal pens to help keep ticks and odors to a minimum.

Not everything produced on site is so Spartanly utilitarian. Ranch staff enjoy carving masks from the balsa trees on site. In keeping with the concepts of permaculture, which provide guidelines for sustainable living for the entire ecosystem, including human animals, ranch staff have access to a playground for their children and a soccer field in addition to the hiking trails, river, yoga platform, and heated pool.

In keeping with the ICT’s guidelines for sustainable tourism, the ranch also has an animal rescue center and a native tree nursery with which its staff endeavors to reforest the surrounding hillsides. As a committed Triple Pundit, I was extremely impressed with the sustainability of the ranch and the social aspects. The ranch employs 35 full time Costa Rican workers as well as a variety of contract workers, all of whom seem happily engaged, well paid, and ecologically savvy. Multiple generations of the Sostheim family also live on site.

There is, of course, the third bottom line: is Rancho Margot profitable? While I didn’t ask directly, it appeared that ecotourism was bringing in more money than any other of the ranch’s extremely diverse and sustainable operations. As co-founder of a green business incubator, I couldn’t help but see the Ranch as an incubator of its own: the natural soaps, the natural insect repellents, the microbe mosh that reduced ticks, the organic beef, dairy, pork, chicken, eggs, and crops….it seemed that everything could be a green business of its own, let alone lending to the profitability of the farm.

All of these things appear possible for Rancho Margot as it continues to scale its operations, but external markets for products are simply not the focus at this juncture. The Ranch accepts volunteers who have skills that match the needs of the Ranch. I met several young American volunteers: farm workers, a bartender, an architect, ranch hands, and others. Perhaps Rancho Margot needs a green business consultant to help them set up markets for external products. Interested parties, apply here.

Scott Cooney is co-founder of Green Business Village, a sustainable business incubator, and author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill).

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Is Google Powermeter the future of home energy monitoring?

--from the Guardian

To save money, emissions and indulge my inner geek, I've tested the Google Powermeter – and it has not been an entirely pleasant experience

Not content with dominating the way we send email, find information and navigate the real world, Google now hopes to manage your home's energy use. In the spirit of saving some money, emissions and indulging my inner geek, I signed up to see whether its Powermeter really is the future. For the past two months, the software – which arrived in the UK in November – has been tracking and broadcasting to a web page how much electricity my early-20th-century, three-bedroom terraced house consumes.

It's not been an entirely pleasant experience. While I had it setup in 10 minutes – using a small hub and sensor from British company AlertMe to plug into my web connection – seeing my electricity use on an iGoogle page alongside my email, news, RSS and other widgets was sometimes a scary reminder of our profligacy.

Our house typically rests at around 150 watts running a computer, fridge and a couple of lights, but it's not uncommon for that to jump up to more like 3kW (3,000 watts) with the washing machine and dishwasher running simultaneously. In December as a whole, the Powermeter graph reminded my daily, we used a shockingly high 370 kWh – but fortunately December's also probably our highest month for energy use, because it's one of the darkest and the one where we're most frequently at home.

Google Powermeter makes looking at your energy consumption almost fun – at least in comparison with deciphering cryptic energy bills. While you can download the raw data of your electricity use, a quick look at the baffling spreadsheet showed the importance of a meaningful interface such as Powermeter's graphs.

Interestingly, while I was trialling the service, Google dropped Powermeter's comparison feature – where you can see how your use compares with US regional averages – because it felt homes varied between regions to the point of making comparisons meanignless. I'm inclined to agree. Usage for our three-bedroom terrace house was regularly described as very good and akin to a one-bedroom apartment, which doesn't tell me much, except how high US domestic energy use is.

I've also been trying British Gas's new EnergySmart tariff, which gives you an energy monitor gadget and makes you submit monthly meter readings. Charles Arthur has reviewed a version of the monitor – he was impressed – but the most useful part of the tariff for me has been the financial incentive to save money on a month-by-month basis, knowing that each kWh saved will be reflected on that month's bank statement.

Ultimately, the really interesting stuff for this technology will come when all this data gets shared socially – and results in the sharing of advice and the application of peer pressure to make people change their habits. While iGoogle and Powermeter doesn't let you publish your energy use direct to Twitter or Facebook, AlertMe offers a personal "Swingometer" to post a basic image of your energy use on Facebook, Twitter or your blog.

Regardless of whether or not Powermeter takes off, we'll all have some sort of standalone energy-monitoring gadget showing electricity usage in our homes by 2020, thanks to the government's smart meters plan.

Meantime, the best way for most people to try an energy monitor – without spending £69 plus an ongoing £3 monthly subscription for AlertMe and Powermeter – will be to borrow one from their local library. A trial that started in Lewisham has since spread across the country, from libraries in Leicester and Brentwood to Cardiff and York. Not for the first time, old-fashioned institutions of learning could trump new-fangled technology and gadgets.

Quebec-city-green-cite-verte gets Eco Neighborhood for Quebec

With the success of Dockside Green on the other side of the country, according to Canwest News Service, Quebec now plans to increase its investment in sustainable development with a $300 million project of 800 environmentally-friendly housing units. Dubbed Cité Verte, the neighborhood is planned for Quebec City in the Saint-Sacrement neighborhood at the corner of Chemin Sainte-Foy and Avenue Saint-Sacrement.

At Cité Verte, the green homes are designed to use 30% less energy and will start at ~$350,000.

In addition, Cité Verte will reduce water consumption by 50% and save about 131 million liters of water per year.

According to a statement released by Cité Verte's promoter, SSQ Financial Group, the Quebec Government announced an investment of $22.7 million in support of the project, and Hydro-Quebec pledged $5 million in support of the development's construction.

Some of the other green elements at work in the future Quebec City project include urban densification, rainwater management, increased energy efficiency of buildings, selective recovery of waste, transportation management, and preservation of green space in order to reduce urban heat islands.

More specifically, Canwest News Services recently reported that Cité Verte will have narrow streets (less car usage), self service bikes, green roofs, on-site solar power, LED street lamps, and a basin to capture and recycle stormwater for irrigation purposes.

This is a massive development on a 93,000 square-meter (1 million square-foot) site, so expect to hear more about the ambitions of Cité Verte as time goes on.

[+] Green house takes on a whole new meaning by Canwest.

Rendering credit: Canwest News Service.