Tag Archives: Green Building

USGBC – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design

The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit community of leaders trying to increase the availability of green buildings to everyone in a reasonable amount of time. Explicitly, their mission is to design buildings and communities to enable a “socially responsible, healthy, and prosperous environment that will improve the quality of life “[1]. They manage LEED certification, offer education programs, and provide resources for green building research, projects, and the general public.

Green Building Impacts - LEED Delivers Results

An aspect of USGBC that I would like to delve into further detail is their LEED certification program. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It is an internationally recognized green building certification system and is used to gauge how “green” a building is at any point of its development. A building’s performance is evaluated in key areas, a few of which are: a sustainable site, water conservation, energy efficiency, and air quality. Points on a hundred point scale are assigned to buildings which address each key area, thus making them qualified for one of four categories, from lower to higher points: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. An example of a LEED Certified and a Platinum Certified building is the American Embassy in Sophia, Bulgaria and the McKinney Green Building in McKinney, Texas, respectively [2].

Pursuing LEED certification is a positive pursuit in many aspects. LEED certification is measurable and offers a better image for the entity (i.e. companies, educational institutions, etc.) wanting the certification. It also provides a specific direction for those who would like to decrease their environmental impact. Furthermore, because a third-party certification process is involved, substance behind the claims is ensured [3].

However, there are a few negative aspects to examine as well. The copious amount of time consumed to address sundry details of the process could be better invested in other, possibly more sustainable things. Additionally, the points awarded for meeting the requirements of each key area is not “normalized.” By this, I mean that installation of a PV solar panel is worth the same amount of points as adding a bike rack [3].

The Alley Flat Initiative, UT Austin

At the University of Texas at Austin, the current buildings under construction, and any new buildings in the future, will at least be LEED Certified [4]. For this, I am certainly proud of, regardless of the cons. You know, Rome was not built in a day. If we are to make this migration to the land of Green, we have to take it one step at a time. As technological advances are made in the field of sustainable construction, the vision of every building everywhere being LEED Certified will be easier to realize.


[1] About USGBC- http://www.usgbc.org/DisplayPage.aspx?CMSPageID=124

[2] LEED – http://www.usgbc.org/DisplayPage.aspx?CMSPageID=51

[3] Nau Examines the Pros and Cons of LEED – http://www.jetsongreen.com/2008/04/nau-examines-th.html

[4] Utilities and Energy Management – UT – http://www.utexas.edu/utilities/sustainability/leed/

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What is Masdar City?

I was able to volunteer at the Cleantech Forum 2010 in late February. There I became familiar with Masdar, the lead sponsor. Masdar is located in the heart of the global oil and gas industry, Abu Dhabi, but it’s all about renewable energy and sustainable technology. In short, their mission is to turn Abu Dhabi in to an international hub for renewable energy and support the development, commercialization and adoption of sustainable technologies. Their four integrated business units (Masdar Institute, Masdar Carbon, Masdar Power and Masdar City) are all cutting edge, but I’d like to focus on what they call the “physical embodiment of Masdar,” Masdar City.

The thought is to create a place for innovators and entrepreneurs to test energy science, city design, sustainable development and environmental architecture. The focus is not only on test and design, but also on making an alluring place to live and work. If your creating the city of the future and money is not an object(budgeted at $22 billion), why not reach for the sky? They have!

Masdar City will be powered by 100% renewables, it will be zero waste, zero carbon and it will have a sustainable water system. Transportation, materials, foods…all sustainable. They are going all out and the level of detail is amazing. From the orientation and width of the streets to the wind cones (shown in the Masdar Headquarters photo above) that naturally ventilate interior spaces to the retractable shades (shown below) covering City Plaza, nothing was overlooked.

Transportation is beneath the city, leaving the ground level open for pedestrians. The transportation system includes a light rail and a Personal Rapid Transport (PRT) system that a transports up to 4 adults to any PRT station at the touch of a button.

The Masdar Institute of Science and Technology(MIST), developed in cooperation with MIT will be at the heart of the R&D in Masdar City. It will eventually be home to 600 master’s and PhD students, with over 100 faculty members. MasDar City with also be the home of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) headquarters and host operations for companies like GE and BASF.

They are currently in Phase One of seven, which focuses on MIST. This means that first residents will be students testing new technologies, while being test subjects themselves. I would encourage you to learn more about Masdar City.

Source: http://www.masdarcity.ae/en/index.aspx

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Energy Efficiency at Home

21.4% of the U.S.’ energy consumption comes from residential uses.  U.S. household electricity consumption in 2001 shows the breakdown of electricity use at home by type and appliance.  With the advancement of technology, manufacturers have been able to produce more efficient appliances (ENERGY STAR-qualified appliances) to help reduce energy consumption at home .  To promote the adoption of these appliances into U.S. homes, the Department of Energy has initiated a state-by-state appliance rebate program which is being funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.  This rebate program looks to promote the replacement of old appliances with new ENERGY STAR-qualified appliances to reduce the consumption of energy for appliances, refrigeration, space heating, cooling, and water heating.  The adoption of these appliances has been slow due to an estimated life span of 10-15 years for most of these major appliances.  The proposed rebates can help ease the financial burden that consumers take on when making these purchases.  Additionally, the increasing focus on energy use in the U.S. should help in the adoption of this technology.

An initiative to extend energy-efficiency tax credits to homeowners would be an additional step in increasing energy efficiency in households by promoting the adoption of many different building and insulation techniques to increase efficiency or decrease energy loss.  This initiative looks to entice owners to make changes to their homes, but I am skeptical that consumers will look to spend their money on their existing homes considering the current economic troubles.  The tax credits will make remodeling more attractive for those consumers who have the extra capital, but it seems to me that the focus should be on requirements for energy efficiency standards in new homes.  Indeed, England has granted an exemption from Stamp duty land tax for all new zero-carbon homes.  Additionally, each state has a governmental agency that sets standards for energy efficiencies in home building.  For example, California’s building efficiency standards have saved more than $56 billion in electricity and natural gas costs since 1978, and it is estimated that the standards will save an additional $23 billion by 2013.

In all, it seems as though the government has the initiatives and programs in place to promote the adoption of efficiency standards in building homes and the appliances used in those homes.  The obstacle at this point seems to be the existing home and appliance base that does not meet the new governmental standards.  Tax credits and rebates will help ease the financial burden that buying these appliances and paying for the remodeling bring on, but I am interested to see how the economic troubles affect the effectiveness of these programs.


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Green Roofs

Why have an ordinary roof of no value, when instead you can build a living roof and benefit the environment and your city? People in cities around the world are choosing to turn the negative space of a traditional roof into a garden on both residential and commercial buildings. There are millions of acres of rooftops around the globe that could be converted to green space.

A typical green roof consists of many layers. Vegetation lives in a growth medium; an engineered soil composite is used to reduce the weight. Several membrane layers lie underneath the soil. A drainage layer allows excess water to flow freely and a root barrier layer prevents the roots from penetrating the roof. There are two types of green roofs: intensive and extensive. Intensive green roofs require a fair amount of regular maintenance but can sustain a wide range of plant species. Extensive roofs are more common because they require less work. Extensive roof soil is typically only 2 to 4 inches deep compared to 1 or 2 feet of soil in an intensive roof. A shallower depth inhibits weeds from establishing themselves on the roof.

There are many benefits to these living roofs. They help to reduce storm water run off by absorbing rainwater. The water that does drain off flows slower and is cleaner because the vegetation and soil mixture act as a filter. Green roofs can help reduce the amount of storm water that has to be treated by municipal water treatment plants and therefore lessens the threat of sewer overflows.

Although the installation cost of a green roof is typically two to three times more than a traditional roof, energy savings can make up for this initial expense. The vegetation and soil of green roofs act as effective insulation, reducing heating and cooling costs by as much as 20 percent.  This additional insulation also acts as a sound barrier, which is pleasing for homeowners close to busy highways or noisy streets. The reduction of the urban heat-island effect is a large advantage provided by green roofs since they stay cooler than conventional roofs.

The sun breaks down the material of traditional roofs over time and forces homeowners to replace the roof. The shelter that the vegetation and soil provides can greatly increase the roof life span. Green roofs can also create a habitat for wildlife. Birds and insects can easily find homes in the living environment of a green roof. It is even possible to graze goats!

In Portland, Oregon, fee reductions and other incentives encourage builders and homeowners to consider green roofs. In Germany, approximately 14 percent of the country’s total roofs are green partly because some cities levy a tax on conventional asphalt rooftops. Living roofs are required by law on roofs of suitable pitch in some cities in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. Although the number of green roofs is increasing in America, extra incentives could help to speed up the trend.

So why not swap your shingles for vegetation? Utilize the wasted space to help reduce storm-water runoff, increase energy efficiency, and enhance your neighborhood surroundings.


Klinkenborg, Verlyn. “Up on the Roof.” National Geographic May 2009: 84-103.

Colwell, Dara. “Green Roofs: Building for the Future.” Alternet (2007): 31 Jan 2010.


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