Concrete is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of green building materials, but given that concrete is the most common building material in the world, making the concrete manufacturing process greener is extremely important. Manufacturing the portland cement that binds concrete together is a serious CO2 emitter and energy consumption hog, and replacing a portion of portland cement required for concrete mix with fly ash both reduces the environmental impact of concrete and finds use for material that would otherwise end up in a landfill.

The mix that makes up concrete is typically 41% crushed rock, 26% sand, 16% water, 11% portland cement, and 6% entrained air. The portland cement and water form a paste that combines with rock and sand to harden into concrete. Portland cement is not the only type of cement available for making concrete, but it does make up about 95% of the cement market. Portland cement is made from calcium carbonate, silicon, aluminum, and iron, which are mined, crushed, sorted, and then heated to extremely high temperatures in a cement kiln. The heat sources for these cement kilns emit carbon dioxide, but about half of the carbon emissions from manufacturing portland cement come from the chemical reaction that turns limestone into lime (calcination).

In addition to emitting CO2, cement kilns also emit dangerous toxins, including high levels of mercury. Cement kilns have been largely unregulated in the United States, with the Environmental Protection Agency declining to set mercury emission standards for cement kilns until 2008.

There are no commercially viable alternatives to completely replace portland cement, but there are some greener materials that can replace a portion of the portland cement required to make concrete. These materials come from natural sources, such as rice husks, and as byproducts from industrial processes, which keep industrial waste out of landfills but may also introduce other problems into the concrete supply chain.

Fly ash is a by-product of burning coal in a coal-fired power plant, and it is the most widely used portland cement replacement. It can replace up to 40% of portland cement in a standard concrete mix, but can be used to replace up to 70% when used for building larger structures. Like most portland cement substitutes, fly ash improves the performance of concrete by making it less permeable, and it also reduces the amount of water required to make concrete.

Fly ash is, however, far from a perfectly green building material. Fly ash contains trace amounts of heavy metals, such as mercury and arsenic. In 2014, the EPA found that, although concentrations of potentially harmful substances is higher in concrete made with fly ash, these higher levels of heavy metals are below “relevant regulatory and health-based benchmarks.” There is some evidence that suggests that contaminants are less likely to leach out of concrete that is made with fly ash than out of concrete made entirely with portland cement.

LEED has recently introduced a pilot credit to that aims to help eliminate illegally sourced wood from the supply chain. LEED has always rewarded leadership in sourcing materials and this new pilot credit does not replace LEED’s existing certified wood credit. The vast majority of new LEED buildings have not pursued this credit, however. This new pilot credit offers an alternate path to compliance (ACP) that is applicable to both LEED 2009 and LEE v4 systems, that offers a tiered approach to sourcing legal wood and expands the definition of what can be considered legally sourced wood.

Before the approval of this new ACP, the only form of the certification that LEED accepted for wood was Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), but the language in the new pilot credit requires the use of wood from “legal (non-controversial) zources as defined by ASTM D7612-10.”The ASTM designation of “certified wood”includes the American Tree Farm System (ATFS), the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), the Sustainable Forestry Institute (SFI), and the Canadian Standards Association Sustainable Forest Management Standard (CSA) in addition to the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standard.

Although wood may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of illegally trafficked goods, many new buildings, most likely including LEED certified buildings, contain illegally harvested wood. LEED does not currently require that builders vet non-certified wood sources. According to Interpol, illegal logging accounts for an estimated 50% – 90% of all forestry activities in tropical forests, such as the Amazon basin, and accounts for up to 30% of all wood traded globally. Illegal logging also continues to be a problem in protected forests, including those in the United States. Healthy forests absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and deforestation accounts for more carbon emissions than all the shipping, air, rail, and road traffic combined.

The global supply chain for timber is very complex, and it is often extremely difficult to guarantee that wood has been legally sourced. Laws in the US, Europe, and Australia do require, however, that companies must practice due diligence when purchasing wood in order to reduce the risk of buying black market wood.

Summer of 2016 is a big deal here at Integrated Design 360 — it’s our five-year anniversary! The green building industry has, as a whole, grown tremendously over the past five years, and so have we.

Looking back at the past five years in the green building industry, technology has advanced in support of green building and energy efficiency. An increased awareness of water usage and a focus on water conservation has been a silver lining of the devastating California drought. Green building rating systems have improved tremendously. The improving economy has allowed the industry to blossom, and studies have shown that green building is becoming an economically wise choice for builders and business owners as opposed to an expensive but morally correct one.

In the past five years, ID 360 has assisted Vantage Data Centers, a wholesale data company, in meeting their green building goals by building three LEED Platinum Data Centers in Northern California, which comprised the largest LEED Platinum data center campus in the United States. We helped Richmond High pursue CHPS (Collaborative for High Performance Schools) verification. We are helping Safeway, Inc. design a LEED Gold store.

Since 2014, ID 360 has worked extensively with the city of Palo Alto to develop their rigorous Green Building Code, Energy Reach Code, and Electric Vehicle Ordinance. ID 360 developed a streamlined process for compliance with the city’s green building codes, along with video-trainings, webinars, and in-person training events to educate homeowners and builders on the compliance requirements.

This is just the highlight reel, of course. Here at ID 360, we’re looking toward the future and looking forward to supporting the green building industry’s goals of zero net energy and zero net water in support of the Paris agreement for a sustainable future.

Most roofs in a city are covered in asphalt or black tar, reflecting heat and adding little to increase the city’s inhabitants’ quality of life. Green roofs, also known as living roofs take all that otherwise underutilized space and turn it into something useful.

A green roof is the roof of a building that is partially or completely covered with vegetation, a growing medium (soil), and a waterproofing membrane. Green roofs can be classified as extensive, semi-intensive, and intensive. Extensive green roofs provide an ecological protection layer, and are not meant to serve as parks or gardens. Extensive green roofs are best suited to structures with lower load bearing capacity, and are the most low-maintenance type of green roof. Intensive green roofs provide some of the ecological benefits, but also acts as gardens which are meant to be enjoyed. Intensive roofs require significantly more upkeep than extensive roofs. A semi-extensive green roof fall between extensive and intensive roofs interns of the requirements for upkeep and intents for use.

Stormwater retention is a major benefit of green roofs. In a typical urban environment, rainwater flows over paved surfaces into the sewer system and out into nearby bodies of water. Stormwater flowing through an urban environment picks up urban pollutants, damaging water quality. Excessive stormwater runoff can also lead to riverbank erosion and flooding. In cities with sewer systems built before 1930, storm drains are typically combined with the sanitary sewers that take wastewater to water treatment plants. During storms, this can lead to combined sewer overflow, during which untreated wastewater gets dumped into rivers and lakes. Green roofs can reduce peak flow of stormwater runoff by 65% and increases the time for water to flow from the roof to a sewer by three hours.

Green roofs are one of a few strategies cities can take to combat heat island effect. The term “heat island” describes a developed, urban area that is hotter than surrounding rural areas. The annual mean temperature of a city with population of a million or more people can be 1.8—5.4°F , (1—3°C) warmer than in surrounding areas. Growing a layer of vegetation on a roof lowers the temperature of the roof’s surface and the surrounding air.

Green roofs also increase the aesthetic value of roofs. An intensive green roof can provide an attractive space for building occupants, as well as a pleasant view for those in nearby buildings. A green roof can also reduce stress and increase worker productivity.

In the United States, LEED reigns supreme when it comes to green building certification, but BREEAM, a twenty-five-year old British certification system, is migrating to the US. The consulting firm BuildingWise is leading the effort to bring BREEAM to the American market.Trainings in the principles of the program began in August. The BLOC, a city-block renovation project in Downtown Los Angeles, should receive it’s certification in October.

BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology) is available in 70 countries, mostly in Europe. LEED, which is available in 160 countries and territories, has a much broader global footprint, and about 15 billion square feet of space has been LEED certified of May 2016.

BREEAM’s in-use building assessment tool is the main focus of the collaboration between BRE and BuildingWise. BREEAM’s In-Use International Technical Standard is an assessment tool which helps the owners of existing commercial buildings improve operational efficiency and sustainability. It costs $1,000 to register for an online self-assessment, and from there, building owners can choose to work with a BREEAM In-Use Assessor or invest in certification.

BREEAM isn’t coming to the US to replace LEED, but will hopefully offer a complimentary certification system. The latest version of LEED is the most ambitious, but also the most strict, and BuildingWise and other US partners hope that BREEAM will allow builders to inch up their commitment to green building before taking the plunge into LEED.

360 Principal Melanie Jacobson will be moderating “The Road to ZNE: City of Palo Alto Case Study” at the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo. This panel discussion will look at the background and implementation of the City of Palo Alto’s Green Building Vision and Net Zero Energy Roadmap. (For more on the Palo Alto’s road to net zero energy and ID 360’s role in the process, check out our previous blog post on the subject).

The panel discussion will focus on the challenges and opportunities in implementing a program such as Palo Alto’s. The presenters will discuss the process of developing a Net Zero Energy plan within a pre-existing climate action plan, the challenges of meeting the cost-effectiveness requirements set by the California Energy Commission, and working with a city-owned utility and Palo Alto’s existing infrastructure. The presenters will also discuss the community engagement and long-term strategic thinking that allowed the city to pursue to its ambitious green building goals.

Greenbuild, the world’s largest green building conference and expo, will run from October 5th through 7th at the Los Angeles Convention Center. “The Road to ZNE: City of Palo Alto Case Study” will take place Wednesday, October 5th from 2:00 to 3:00 PM.

On October 12th, the US Navy and the CA Energy Commission signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) formalizing a partnership that supports Navy and Marine Corps development of alternative energy sources and sustainable energy projects. The MOU ensures “continued collaboration and information sharing” on energy projects, with a focus on renewable energy and alternative energy sources.

Following the MOU signing, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations and Environment Dennis V. McGinn announced that the Navy and Marine Corps will lease 205 electric vehicles for use at California installations, the largest fleet of electric vehicles used by a federal agency. The Navy has also signed agreements to develop solar energy and solar energy with battery storage projects at three Naval installations in California.

California is home to more Navy and Marine Corps installations than any other state, and hosts the largest US Navy Installation, NAWS China Lake, as well as Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, the West Coast base of the US Marine Corps.

Even as climate change efforts continually get voted down in Congress, the US Military has quietly been at the forefront of changing how the federal government uses energy. The Department of Defense has set the goal of meeting twenty percent of its energy needs with renewable energy by the year 2020. The US Navy has a more ambitious goal of deriving half of its consumption from renewable sources by 2020.

“Green building” is most often associated with commercial buildings, public buildings, and privately owned homes, but according to a recent study, the American rental market is getting greener. According to a study by RENTCafe and YardiMatrix, the number of LEED-certified apartment units has grown significantly since 2008, with the number of new, LEED apartments rising by an estimated 32% in 2016. Chicago, IL has the most green certified apartments, with 13,800 LEED-certified rental units on the market, while Cambridge, MA has the most green units per person.

Green apartment living does come with a premium cost. Green-certified apartments bring in higher rents than conventionally built apartments, and the cost difference varies by city. The average rent for a green certified apartment is, on average, $560 more per month than a non-green certified apartment.

Renters generally expressed an interest in green-certified apartments, but a majority of those surveyed indicated a willingness to pay only $100 per month in rent for a green apartment. And yet, a 2012 study in San Diego found that green apartments outperform their non-sustainable counterparts not only in rent, but also in vacancy rates.

Beyond the fact that there is a demand for green, sustainable rental units, is there a difference between the rental premium for LEED-certified or otherwise green-certified buildings and sustainable and energy efficient (SEE) buildings that did not pursue third-party certification? A 2015 study found that, while apartment buildings built with SEE principles did fetch higher rents than non-SEE buildings by 4.7%, the rent premium was double for LEED-certified buildings.

Going green is an investment that can save money over time by reducing energy and other operating costs, and for building owners, going through the process of obtaining LEED certification for a multi-family apartment building can bring in higher rents and reduce vacancy rates.

The City of Palo’s Development Services Department received the 2016 Energy Champion Award from the California Energy Efficiency Industry Council (CEEIC) in recognition of the city’s leadership role in advancing energy efficiency. Palo Alto received the award after the approval of it’s Zero Net Energy “Reach Code.” The Energy Reach Code was developed as part of the city’s “ZNE Roadmap”, a plan that shows just how important green buildings are to reduce overall energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

The Palo Alto reach code ordinance offers two pathways for commercial, multi-family, and single family buildings to meet or exceed Title 24 minimum standards for energy efficiency, depending on the presence of the photovoltaic solar panels, and is an important step in the city’s plan to help the state of California meet its goal of ZNE for commercial buildings by 2020 and residential buildings by 2030. The “Reach Code” ordinance goes into effect January 1, 2017, and affects single-family, multi-family, and commercial buildings. Palo Alto is one of only three cities in California that has an energy reach code ordinance that goes beyond energy efficiency required by the State Building Standards Code.

The California Energy Efficiency Industry Council is a non-profit organization that supports energy efficiency and advocates for policies that support green jobs and green industry growth.

Integrated Design 360, as a strategy consultant for the city, has provided the expertise in green building policy to develop and implement the Energy Reach Code Ordinance. For more on ID 360’s role in the City of Palo Alto’s Energy Reach Code ordinance, see our previous blog post.

As a peaceful transfer of power looms on the horizon, the green building industry faces an uncertain future. The president elect is openly hostile to climate change, has appointed a climate change denier to head the EPA, and has made some uncharitable remarks about green buildings. But despite a President Elect Trump’s plans to bring back coal, market forces and city and state governments offer hope for the green building industry under a Trump administration.

As the green building industry has grown, the leading reason for sustainable building shifted from “the right thing to do” in 2008 to a close tie between client demand and market demand in 2012. Green buildings, particularly LEED certified buildings, take in higher rents and have lower occupancy rates. (See our previous blog post on the subject here). Green buildings also offer demonstrable savings in energy costs to building owners over time.

In other words, the green building industry is viable with or without Federal government protection because it benefits business. Green building industry leaders suggest that a change of messaging may be necessary under a Trump presidency. By putting less emphasis on the importance of sustainability in stopping climate change and more on the benefits to a potential builder’s bottom line, green building can market itself under a pro-business Republican administration.

And fortunately for the green building industry, the vast majority of policies that affect green building are legislated at the local and state level. While some of President Obama’s executive orders are potentially on the chopping block, the regulations that drive green building innovation happen, on the whole, on the state and local level.

Amid uncertainty about the future of green energy in the US under a Trump Administration, China is on the verge of cementing its place as the world leader in green energy investment and development.

In 2015, China invested 103 billion dollars in domestic renewal energy, a seventeen percent growth from 2014 and two and a half times more than the United States investment in the same sector for that year. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), between 2015 and 2021, China will install 36% of all hydro electricity generation capacity, 40% of all wind energy, and 36% of all solar energy worldwide.

Although employment in renewable energy fell overall in China in 2016, China still accounts for 3.5 million out of the 8.1 million renewable energy jobs worldwide. In comparison, there were less than one million renewable energy jobs in the United States in 2016.

Just looking at the numbers, China dominates the global solar industry. Five out of the six largest solar-module manufacturing companies are located in China, and the average cost of solar panels in China fell by 30% in 2016. In 2015, China overtook the United States in the electric car market with 200,000 new registrations that year.

The United States needs to keep up with China’s investment in and development of renewable energy. While the US and China are allies who cooperate and collaborate, the renewable energy market is growing increasingly competitive. The United States cannot afford to turn back to coal and lose out on the opportunity to innovate, create good jobs, and ensure a safe and sustainable future.

While green energy is usually considered a liberal issue, some Republican states are warming up to renewable energy, particularly wind power. Texas, in particular, is in the midst of wind boom of sorts – with 11,592 wind turbines and an installed wind capacity of 20,321 megawatts, it has triple the wind energy capacity of the next state, Iowa. California, a green energy stalwart, comes in third.

Four of the eleven largest wind farms in the world are in West Texas. The seeds for the Texas wind boom can be traced back to two staunch Republican governors, Rick Perry and George W. Bush. Under governor Rick Perry, Texas established the Competitive Renwable Energy Zones (CREZ), building transmission lines for wind power and creating a competitive market for wind power. Texas is not the only staunchly Republican state with significant investment in wind power. The top three producers of wind power by percentage of total state electricity supply are Iowa, South Dakota, and Kansas.

Wind power is an appealing and practical solution in some Republican states simply because, in much of the middle of the country, the land is open and vast and the wind blows hard and consistently. While more densely populated coastal areas struggle with where to put a wind farm, Texas, Iowa, and South Dakota do not lack for space or wind. Texas also benefits from having its own power grid, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), while the rest of the country splits two other major grids. ERCOT doesn’t actually cover all of Texas, but it covers enough of it to make it much easier build long distance transmission lines that brings power from remote wind farms to cities and towns that need it than in states on a federally regulated grid.

Wind projects have failed in liberal, coastal areas not only for a lack of consistent wind, but also for concerns over aesthetics and wildlife. For example, the Cape Wind project planned for the Nantucket Sound failed after fourteen years of negotiations due to concerns about bird migration from environmental groups, economic objections from fishermen, and objections from wealthy homeowners over the loss of their pristine ocean views. But in west Texas, where the landscape is already scarred by oil and gas production, wind turbines are not considered an eyesore, but rather, a sign of economic hope and protection from the boom and bust cycle of the oil and gas industries. In a climate with inconsistent rain, leasing land to wind farmers also provides farmers with an alternative form of income in a dry year.

Republican support for green energy generally comes down to economics, and for the most part, has not indicated support for curbing greenhouse gases or an acknowledgment of climate change. As green energy has shifted from expensive but morally right to something that is good for both the planet and the bottom line, green energy has become something that both sides of the political spectrum can agree on.