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Out of Our Minds
Saturday, September 24, 2005 12:27 PM
Crunchy as in Number-Crunch
Anita Sharpe on Culture

Being green is now mainstream, even for bottom-liners. At least in California, where so many cultural shifts seem to originate. Check out this story from the LA Times. Here's an excerpt: (you can also hit 'continue' to see the whole story.)

'the whole 'green building' phenomenon pretty much has been kidnapped from hard-core environmentalists, spruced up and given a new suit by corporate America.'

No Longer Just Hippie, Green is Finally Chic\nWith the city of Santa Monica leading the way, Southern California homeowners are turning to ecologically sound design as an alternative to soaring energy costs\n\nBy David Lansing, David Lansing last wrote for the magazine about '60s-era cocktails.\n\n\n\n\nDon't look now, but the '70s are back. Not disco, thank God, but the energy crisis. Gas not only costs an arm and a leg, but consumption is peaking toward that dreaded point where demand may outstrip supply. California's electricity crisis of 2000-2001 may have been orchestrated by corporate bad boys, but rolling blackouts and brownouts could become as much a part of our summers as record-breaking temperatures and water rationing. And speaking of water, we have a problem: There's not enough of it.\n\n \nSo get ready for another round of dreadlock-wearing, hemp-clothed, tree-hugging moralists wagging fingers and imploring us to abandon our homes and live in treehouses, right? Well, yeah, those people are always going to be there. But what's really interesting-startling, really--mis that the real 'green' movement in California these days is coming from the most unlikely sources. Like utility companies. And the home-building industry. And even our Hummer-loving governor. In fact, the whole 'green building' phenomenon pretty much has been kidnapped from hard-core environmentalists, spruced up and given a new suit by corporate America.\n\nWhich raises the question: Is green chic?\n\nThe green building movement 'has moved way beyond the hippie era,' says Eric Shamp, an architect and 'Sustainability Champion' for HMC Architects in Ontario. 'It's become a very savvy, bottom-line response to current economic conditions. Builders are going green because it's finally starting to make sense economically. And if we can save the planet at the same time, so much the better.'\n\nSouthern California developer Steve Edwards concurs: 'I'm not doing [green developments] because I'm a tree hugger. I'm doing them because, first of all, there are economic benefits. The fact that there are also environmental and social benefits makes it just that much more logical.'\n\nHow mainstream has it gone? Consider this: Shamp's architectural firm currently is involved in a project with the Cucamonga Valley Water District to design and build a 9,000-square-foot demonstration building, called the Frontier Project, whose sole purpose is to demonstrate to Inland Empire homeowners, contractors, developers and businesses how energy- and resource-efficient technologies work, what's out there and where to find it. For instance, there are gray water recovery systems that recycle waste water from sinks, showers, bathtubs, dishwashers and washing machines for landscape irrigation. The water district figures the average homeowner could save $100 to $200 a year with such a system.\n\nBut aren't water utilities supposed to encourage us to drown our lawns and gardens and let the excess run down our driveways and into storm drains to the ocean, algae bloom be damned? Robert DeLoach, the chief executive of the Cucamonga Valley Water District, admits it's a confusing idea. 'We've changed our mind-set,' he says. 'Conserving water was an oxymoron for us five years ago. But as water has become more political, we've changed our thinking. Now we see ourselves as stewards. And we need to get serious and put our money where our mouths are.'\n\nThat's all well and good, you say. But probably not very practical, right? I mean, who wants yucky gray water going into their cactus garden? Or those hideous-looking solar panels on the roof? They're nice ideas, but not very attractive. As Kermit used to say, it's not easy being green.\n\nActually, it is. And if you live in a house that was built in the last 30 years, it's already twice as green as an older home, thanks largely to a slew of energy regulations established in 1978 and known collectively as Title 24. New California standards, which take effect Oct. 1, tighten the screws even more. Residential replacement windows need to be high efficiency, kitchen hot water pipes in new construction must be insulated, outdoor lighting must be high-efficacy or include motion or light sensors. And that's just the start. If the Million Solar Roofs Initiative passes the state Legislature next year, California's use of solar power would significantly increase during the next 13 years.\n\nBut not everyone is waiting for solar energy to go mainstream. Deep in the heart of Orange County, in a perfectly coiffed development romantically named Ladera Ranch, 1,280 homes and townhouses are being built in 12 neighborhoods collectively known as Terramor that -- get this --are green. In fact, the developer, Rancho Mission Viejo, boasts that Terramor is 'the largest green-oriented village of its kind in the nation.' And this is no hippie commune, believe me. The upscale homes, which range from $500,000 to more than $1 million and come in Cape Cod, Spanish traditional and cottage styles, among others, have roof-mounted photovoltaic panels, recycled insulation, built-in kitchen recycling areas, drip landscape watering systems and electrical vehicle recharging outlets in the garage (in partnership with DaimlerChrysler, the developers also offer Terramor residents a discount of up to $1,000 on a Global Electric Motorcar purchased at a local auto dealership).\n\n'We did our research before starting this project,' says Paul Johnson, senior vice president of community development for Rancho Mission Viejo, 'but we were still surprised by the response.' Such as the fact that 88% of the residents in Terramor say they are willing to pay as much as $124 a month more for green features.\n\n'We learned that people are just more concerned about this than traditional developers assume. We've taken something that hasn't been done in Southern California before and done it on a big scale because we know that it's coming-- green building is the future. Everyone's going to be doing this in three or four years. And we want to be pioneers in the business.'\n\nNot everyone is as optimistic. Isabelle Duvivier, a Venice-based architect, designed a number of Santa Monica-area green homes and also conceived and designed the Santa Monica and Ballona Watershed Green Map, which features businesses and organizations in the area that provide products or services consistent with Santa Monica's Sustainable City Plan. She has major doubts about the green building movement's longevity, worrying that the whole thing may be as fleeting and trendy as a Paris Hilton fashion show.\n\nNoting that Outside magazine recently applauded Venice's sustainable architecture, Duvivier says, 'It's very chic and very hip right now, but I'm cautious because I'm not necessarily sure this is a movement that's going to stay with us. We're such a flashy city, and it's all about the image. We like sexy green materials like bamboo floors, but many passive green materials, like recycled insulation, are less sexy and less apt to get our attention. So what's going to happen when we get tired of floors made from recycled rubber?'\n\nNewport Beach architect Craig Schultz agrees, to a degree. He tells the story of clients who wanted a green house, but once they were presented with the costs of using alternative materials, including building products that did not use formaldehyde, they found it cost-prohibitive and changed their minds. But that was several years ago. Now, he says, costs have come down as green products become more standard in the building industry. 'From recycled paints to a whole range of flooring choices, it's just a lot easier to specify green products in construction these days,' he says, 'even if the homeowner doesn't specifically ask for it.'\n\nBoth Duvivier and Schultz agree that the future of green building in Southern California depends on products being more affordable, easier to understand and governed by some sort of universal standard. Toward that end, the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council, which created a green certification system for commercial buildings in 2000 called LEED --Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design --is currently testing a pilot program for green home certification that, in a year or two, will give consumers a way to measure a builder's claims of residential 'greenness.'\n\nIn Southern California, the leader in promoting green building is undoubtedly Santa Monica, which offers building grants for LEED-certified buildings, has Green Building Design and Construction Guidelines (available at http://www.smenergy.org ) and supports a Green Building Resource Center for the public and an annual green building tour to coincide with its Alternative Building Materials Expo in the spring.\n\nIn addition, the city has hired a green-building advisor, Greg Reitz. 'Green building is here to stay,' says Reitz, who notes that a survey Santa Monica did two years ago revealed that 93% of the respondents said they believed that buildings in the city should be more energy-efficient in the future. 'I think Los Angeles is really ready for green buildings. Right now, I have to convince most of my clients that they should build green. But in four or five years, I think they will be coming to me and demanding environmentally friendly houses. It's definitely coming. It's a sea change.'\n\nA green sea change.\n\n\n

1 comment

Janet Auty-Carlisle - 9/24/2005 11:33:49 PM
Wahoo! Finally green is going main stream. Given the impact that global warming seems to be having on things...do the names Katrina and Rita mean anything....it is vital to consider other options for how we live, work and play. It just makes sense. I was out in Salt Spring island this summer off the west coast of BC and there is a company there named Terra Firma. They are building houses that are called rammed earth. The technology is ancient but they have taken the specs to today's requirements. The houses are even built to withstand earthquakes and survive. I saw a completed house and it was quite stunning. They already build these same houses in Australia. In the 'burbs' there 20% of the houses are rammed earth. It's labour intensive and 10 to 20% more than 'stick houses' but they are built to last. Enough talk already...let's get working on change. In the words of a very famous man and whose quote I love...'Be the change you wish to see. ' Gandhi... so what are you waiting for?
Living la vida fearless,


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