Green in Philly

Posted by on Nov 21, 2013 in Inspiration, Sustainable Design | No Comments

First, I’d like to note that I am successfully shortening the time between posts. Pretty soon, the two or three of you (that’s counting me) that read this can expect posts once every quarter! Now on to the reason for my writing.


I’m at Greenbuild in Philadelphia right now. What is Greenbuild you ask? Good question. It is (according to their website) “the world’s largest conference and expo dedicated to green building” and it “brings together industry leaders, experts and frontline professionals dedicated to sustainable building in their everyday work, and a unique energy is sparked.” I attended Greenbuild for the first time last year when it was held in San Francisco. It was a great experience and reinvigorated my passion for green design and building (I suppose that’s the unique spark of energy). My wife Jana was with me on the trip, so that obviously made it more enjoyable as well! Anyhow, I wanted to come again just in case the first year was a fluke. Well, it wasn’t. I just got back to my apartment in Philly (thank you airbnb) located near Rittenhouse Square (thank you William Penn) after listening to the keynote address by Hillary Clinton. You can see her very clearly in the photo below. I left before Bon Jovi took the stage – my college roommate Jason would be greatly disappointed.


I’ve attended several education sessions, which is the primary reason I’m here. Don’t worry, I won’t drone on about them now even though most of them are worth some droning. I just wanted to take a moment and highlight a few things that have stood out so far – I still have one day left at the conference:

  1. Passive House (or Passivhaus): I learned about Passive House a couple of years ago and attended a session at last year’s Greenbuild on the topic. Passive Houses are highly energy efficient houses. The basic concept is to create an airtight, super-insulated building shell to reduce the heating/cooling demands on the building while increasing thermal comfort and indoor air quality. (There’s typically a lot of nasty stuff in the air inside your home long after construction is over.) Dr. Wolfgang Feist (German) started research into this concept with the first demonstration house built in 1990. Since then, there are numerous building throughout Europe built to Passivhaus standards and a growing number in the U.S. Incredibly simple, powerful concept.
  2. Net-Zero Buildings (or Zero-Energy Buildings): This refers to buildings that generate as much energy as they use and have zero carbon emissions annually. The session I attended also made the argument to include water use in the net-zero equation. A few of the main concepts I was reminded of are: we need to decentralize – stop relying on large systems (think water treatment plants) and move to several smaller systems (like a well and on-site wastewater systems for every house), deliver energy only when it is needed and in the correct amount (lights that come on only when you are in the room – or a certain part of the room), grow food (on the roof, wall, site, wherever) and sequester carbon (wood is good for this). One thing stood out to me more than the others from this presentation. The presenter, Eric Corey Freed, asked the question “Why are we afraid of our clients?” His answer – because they like to say no. We (green architects, designers, builders) have to stop apologizing for wanting to do the right thing, which is making smarter, more sustainable decisions during design and construction. We need to start asking questions where the answer should be no, such as “Do you want a significant portion of your utility payment to go toward the heating/cooling of the outdoors?”  Green design and construction is meant to be beneficial for all parties, so promoting this approach is simply being professional.
  3. 2030 Palette: Finally, Edward Mazria, founder and CEO of Architecture 2030, introduced the 2030 Palette – “a free interactive online platform that puts the principles and actions behind low-carbon and resilient built environments at the fingertips of architects, planners and designers worldwide.” I’ve just registered and skimmed over the website. It seems like a fairly robust education tool.

That’s all for now. Thanks for hanging in there.

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