Posts Tagged ‘West Coast Green’

Aquaponics Outside PCBC and West Coast Green

Friday, June 24th, 2011

P1010675How could anyone not notice the small box of growing vegetables sitting atop a large fish tank sitting outside the zero energy house at the entrance to the PCBC and West Coast Green conference? Sure, this unusual fish and vegetable combination drew a lot of eyeballs but did anyone stop to ask what the heck this sea-veggie contraption does? We did.

For those outside of the land Down Under, most people remain unaware of aquaponics. Australian farmers continue to use this sustainable way to grow fish and vegetables due to their continuing extreme drought conditions.

The concept behind aquaponics can be explained rather simply. The water and fish poop from the tank move upward into the stone filled bed which feeds the plants. The hydroton pebbles, imported from Germany, have bacteria that absorb the fish poop then convert the poop to nitrites then nitrates which is fertilizer. Okay, we’re not chemists but when Kevin Warnock who put this contraption together using parts from Costco and a fish supply place shows us that the plants grow six times faster than in dirt and the fish grow twice as fast as in the wild we have to think that this may be a good idea.

Even better, consider the water that can be saved. Not only do the vegetables use about 1/10th the water of vegetables grown in dirt but the systems needs no chemicals to clean the water. Kevin only adds water (for the fish and fish food) but no cleaners, chemicals or pesticides.

People can put this contraption in their patios for about $1000 or so but it works an a larger scale in Oz. Sign us up a veggie and fish farmers because with a sustainable system like this we could get used to eating salmon salad.

PCBC and West Coast Green Combination – Organic Architect Speaks

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

P1010666San Francisco might be known for food, liberalism and Green laws but also for density. Not the stupid kind but rather living in tight quarters. With those ideas, it made sense to combine PCBC and West Coast Green especially considering that real estate, especially new construction and Green building, continue to suffer greatly due to the economic downturn. After all dirty building and green building belong in the same event.

The crowds seemed a little thin on the first day at San Francisco’s Moscone Center but things will probably pick up during day two. One place where the crowd packed into the space was to see noted organic architect Eric Corey freed. The noted sustainable Howard Roark never disappoints in his presentations no matter the setting.

Freed offered his usual collection of bold, entertaining, outrageous slides to accompany his presentation. (Where does he get those photos?) A good portion of his 20 minute presentation focused on the car and how we have designed our society around the auto. Besides sprinkling in car facts such as the average American spends 84 hours stuck in traffic, and 94 percent of cars remain parked. So why do we have a love affair with our cars? Cars only destroy community which rings true in places like LA and Houston.

Even though Freed makes his living as a noted architect, his presentation weighed so heavily against the car that you might think that he changed his profession to bicycle inventor. His anti-car discussion eventually lead to several ideas to fix cities so that they change into people friendly instead of car friendly areas:

1-     Ban the lawns and replace with victory gardens.

2-     No straight streets.

3-     Require porous roads and lots to reduce water waste

4-     Make solar available as an over the counter purchase

5-     Bring back corner stores. This one we might not totally agree with unless the corner stores actually sell something besides processed crap.

6-     Encourage local real estate developers so that houses don’t look cookie cutter all over the US.

It’s good to have to someone thinking out of the box even if his requirements run on a slightly fascist model.

5 Energy Efficient Improvements To Make with FHA 203K Loans

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

green fiberHaving recently attended West Coast Green, we couldn’t help but thinking how this whole mortgage crises set the Green building movement back a few years. Unfortunately people will think about getting their loan mod or forbearance before they think about buying formaldehyde free cabinets or installing a water catchment system. The thing that many people don’t realize is that with the right property (and loan officer) buyers can use the FHA 203K loan to improve a home with Green elements.

In terms of Green building and Green interiors, people always get fixated on the energy savings aspects. True, much of Green building centers on energy (and savings) but don’t overlook the health benefits (like using zero VOC paint)

With the 203K loan in mind, here we listed 5 Green improvements that can improve a home, save money and increase the value:

1-    Go Energy Star – Energy Star appliances remain the way to go to not only cut down on an energy bill but it works as a plus for the planet as well. Some Energy Star appliances can chop 20% of a monthly energy bill and they often cost about the same as their inefficient cousins.

2-    Insulate baby Insulate – With winter looming, it only makes sense to either add or upgrade the walls and the attic. Many Green insulation options such as Bonded Logic to soy-based polyurethane can be found.

3-    Water Water Everywhere – Things like low flow showerheads (which should be a given these days) represents an inexpensive fix but think about low flow toilets, tankless hot water heaters, and for the more adventurous a water catchment system.

4-    Replace those Windows – Anyone that has ancient leaky windows might consider replacing them. The low–E, dual pane windows continue to hit the market at a fast clip. To us they represent a no-brainer as they not only preserve energy costs but they cut down on outside noise as well. Typical Eco-Star windows only cost about $15 more then their leaky brothers.

5-    Not to many people in the Bay Area have those old (pre 1992) inefficient furnaces that have a standing pilot light but consider sending it out to pasture (not the junkyard but some place like Building Resources) as they waste abut 35 percent of the fuel the use. Better to use the 203K money for a “condensing furnace” with annual efficiency of at least 90 percent. That number along with the possible 27 percent savings on a heating bill definitely sounds better to us.

GreenCycler – Simple Composter at West Coast Green 2010

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

compost item

It may be a few weeks after West Coast Green 10 but we’re still digging out from various events, items and gadgets. Many companies offered products with fancy displays and high tech visuals. One of the gadgets that caught our eye also caught this piece of celery. The simple GreenCycler comes by way of Denver and offers a new take on compost.
We like to think of it as a trash compactor for compost. It basically condenses the compost then stores it in a fruit fly proof container before a human takes the ultra condensed compost, hopefully into the their own compost bin then eventually their yard. We realize that this item wouldn’t be such a great benefit for people who toss their compost into the large green city compost containers but for those who have their own compost bin then GreenCycler which mulches the food to a smaller mass which works to speed up the compost process.

We could see this item being a good seller for restaurants that compost their scraps, schools that show kids how do compost as well as people with their own victory gardens. Is the GreenCycler the great Green invention of 2010? Not really but it shows some innovation and some thinking outside the box.

William McDonough at West Coast Green 10 – Deep Dive Part 2

Monday, October 4th, 2010

mcdonough wcg10Being so busy at West Coast Green 10 and in honor of ecoMonday we post part two of the William McDonough “deep dive”, and he does get deep. While most people throw around the term “carbon footprint” or simply use it in passing, McDonough talked about a skyscraper that he worked on 21 years ago, and calculated the amount of trees that would be need to be planted not only to offset the building of the skyscraper but to operate it as well. He convinced the person financing the building that the cost of the trees could be used in place of the marketing budget. Who needs a marketing budget when the story of the tree planting ends up as a front-page story on the Wall Street Journal? Green does pay.

Speaking of trees, we fully agree that people need to start thinking about the “rights of nature” and not just human right. We need think more in terms of abundance, not scarcity.

He mentioned things like the Endangered Species Act, which seems to be thinking in the wrong direction, with the reactive thinking. We need to start thinking proactively.

Our government and other governments and entities continually throw about numbers and plans to deal with our environmental impact. Think about the lofty goals for the UN, US government whatever about reducing carbon emissions by 20% (or whatever number) by 2020 that don’t illustrate “less bad” thinking. As McDonough states, “being less bad is not good”. And that is what our country continues to do or promote. We warn people in CA entering buildings (thanks to Prop 65) that the building contains various materials that cause cancer yet they remain legal and we continue to use them to construct buildings. Isn’t there something illogical about that thinking?

Seeing McDonough makes us (and the rest of the crowd) more motivated. We’re not here to be less bad, we’re here to be more good.”

Here’s a call to action to start being more good.

William McDonough (Mr. Sustainable) at West Coast Green 10

Saturday, October 2nd, 2010

willaim mcdonoughThey normally refer to William McDonough as Mr. Sustainable but after watching his unplugged marathon presentation at the first day of West Coast Green 10, we might refer to him as Green John Wooden or the Eco Vince Lombardi. Why? Because like the two notable sports coach legends they built their winning teams based on sound foundations and fundamentals. Oh, and they were great motivators.

In a wold of sound bites and 60 second You Tube videos, how could anyone would not be impressed and awed but his powerfully fact filled, logical yet often funny almost 3 hour presentation? He began by showing his upbringings in Ireland where his first house designs incorporated solar collectors. Impressive how his progressive thought goes way back in the day. He jumped forward to tell a story about his first US based project in New York when he fought to get compost toilets approved for Hindu temple. (In some places, unless you live in national park,  it sometimes remains challenging to get approved to install compost toilets).

Then in 1984, McDonough started questioning manufacturers about what was in their wood, paint, carpets and Building Materials Supplier told him, “It’s proprietary. It’s legal. Go away.” So much for transparency.

And so much for the first part of this post. We’ll post additional highlights from McDonough who, lucky for the planet and us, has not gone away.

Photo by Darilyn  Kotzenberg

Spirited Solar Talk and Tour at West Coast Green 10

Friday, October 1st, 2010
Lot's of good natural light in the solar house

Lot's of good natural light in the solar house

On the first day of West Coast Green 10, only a handful of bloggers (like Zem Joaquin of Ecofabulous) showed up for an informal solar talk presented by SunPower and Luminalt but as they say, we respect the quality more than the quantity. We quality people brought about a spirited talk mentioning the progress of solar and how solar fits just a small green option in the big picture. We raised the question of considering that if someone who has only $50,000 in their pocket would they be better off installing a PV system or maybe a water catchment system, hydronics, some new eco-star appliances.

To be fair, Luminalt made a good case for just making a sales pitch. They work with GoSolarSF, which combines environmental justice and social justice for lower income neighborhoods like the Bayview here in SF. They made a point, which we have seen before, that be having a solar system that reduces their PG & E bill to sometimes nothing can transform the life of someone.

Now part of the discussion ended up being a show and tell of one of the local installation. Of course we would have preferred to see one of the homes in the Bayview but we settled for a posh house in Presidio Terrace. Honestly, the people who opened their house to us do live a mansion and the PG & E bill to them will hardly make a difference but they continue to make a conscious green effort. Besides the 3 7.5 KW solar system they repurposed much of their old furnishings to Building Resources (instead of the dump), they installed eco star appliances, used low VOC paint and drive hybrids. The couple mentioned that they will be purchasing fully electric cars soon.

Although not militantly green they do make an effort. We hope soon that we can say the same for everyone else.

Keyed Up For West Coast Green

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

wcgreenimagesEven though West Coast Green remains just a shade over a month away, we’re still keyed up about the event. With the continuing housing storm and distressed housing situation, many people have not been considering sustainable aspects to real estate.

We’re sure that will change. It may take a few years to re-convince people that Green building and innovation are not just for the good real estate times. Green building should be a staple and not just a temporary fad.

As for the show, we can’t wait to see sustainable rock stars like Bill McDonough of Cradle-to-Cradle fame who will deliver a 3-hour presentation about the tradition of Buckminster Fuller. Also, on our must see list will be the Innovation Pipeline which creates an “Exploratorium-like” exhibit with smart products that always to seem to wow us.

Don’t think that we won’t be looking out for any “greenwashers” as some companies seem to only promote the hype but provide nothing sustainable in the tank.

West Coast Green 2009 Comes Back to San Francisco

Monday, October 5th, 2009

It’s good to have West Coast Green back in SF. Not that San Jose didn’t play a fine host to last years bigger conference but the show lacked something last year, call it a vibe, or energy but something didn’t gel. So, this year’s scaled down but energetic and education West Coast Green found itself a new home at the Fort Mason. Maybe the ocean air and bay views added a green spark to the conference.

The economy definitely had an impact on this year’s West Coast Green with less venders but with less money that mean that people just had to get more creative with less moola such as the floating island, show gardens and even the sustainability built Jewish Sukkoth. The usual green rock stars like Eric Corey Freed and Michelle Kaufman made their presences felt with their energetic personalities. (more…)

Where do we Sleep now?

Wednesday, September 13th, 2006

Orchard Garden Hotel

We can’t check in yet but we’re already giddy to sleep in one of the 86 rooms in the USA’s first LEED-NC certified hotel. San Francisco’s own Orchard Garden Hotel which represents the first in what will hopefully be a long line of green hotels will open in October. Green Roof Inns anyone?

Originally scheduled to open in July, then September, and now finally October, the hotel construction crew found itself at the mercy of two things that it couldn’t control.

1- The weather. The seemingly endless rain during in March and April caused numerous construction delays. Looks like they should have installed that rooftop garden sooner.

2- Ironically the second delay was due to PG&E permit issues. Funny how a Green Hotel can be delayed by a mega power company. That will teach you to stay attached to the grid. The hotel staff decided not to go with solar panels due to:

a) No space on the roof top to accommodate the panels
b) ROI not worth it – would take close to 30 years!

Fine reasons indeed but watch your PG&E bill.

One final note – The delayed Orchard Garden opening will cause West Coast Green guest speakers to bunk down at a backup option for the end of September conference. A tent in Golden Gate Park anyone?