Vertical Gardens – Living Walls

As a NY living wall installer I just devoured Garden Up, Smart Vertical Gardening for Small and Large Spaces by Susan Morrison and Rebecca Sweet.

Humans have become very good at building up with cement and metal. We cover large parts of the planet with buildings of all sizes. We all see the value of building upwards in this way and we rejoice with each building built.

Humans are also very good at planting in the flat ground. We can make beautiful gardens and abundant farms. And of course we all see the value in that too.

But for some reason this obsession with building up has yet to apply to gardens. It is just not done. It is not part of our global culture. Most people would feel an empty back yard is a waste and that it should be planted. But nobody walks by a building and says, “Look at that wall, how come they haven’t planted it yet?”

ugly wall in need of a living wall installer

This cultural view point is global and a reflection of our inability to see nature as our partner. We think it is perfectly fine to build massive cities devoid of nature, as if humans and nature can be separated without deadly consequences.

As we evolve we need to bring nature with us. We can’t leave nature behind. People leave their home town and go to the city. Over time they may see their childhood friends back in the little town as less sophisticated than city dwellers.

In our arrogance we view nature the same way. In our arrogance we think we can live without nature. But increasingly as our planet becomes hostile to our destructive habits nature is telling us otherwise.

One of the solutions to reintegrating humans and nature is growing up, double pun intended. Better said I mean planting up. A human made wall should be seen as a dead space in need of plants.

Living walls should become as necessary as insulation and windows on a building. We can’t afford to waste such valuable real estate. Our survival depends on increasing our exposure to nature and walls are the key.

Garden-design-with-vertical-wall

Eco Brooklyn has invested a lot of time researching the best vertical wall and living wall installations for the New York environment. We have become active living wall installers for the NY area. New York of all cities, currently devoid of living walls and yet famous for building up with concrete, needs good living wall installers.

The Garden Up book is a step in the right direction. A handbook for DYI homeowners, the book discusses the many styles and techniques of turning your garden vertical. It may simply be a narrow part of the garden where the only space is upwards.

They suggest design styles for layering plants so that you can maximize your ground space. They list good plants and trees that are tall and slender.

They also cover the different kinds of living walls – non-soil systems, soil systems, pocketed structures, modular planting, irrigated, non-irrigated etc.

Don’t expect an in depth explanation of how to install large living walls. The book is more an idea book and an intro to what exists as options. It is full of wonderful pictures and easy small DIY projects. And don’t expect a list of native plants. They list lots of plants and it is up to you to make sure which plants are native to your area.

It isn’t a farm gardening book either. It touches on edible gardens but the techniques outlined in the book won’t solve world hunger.

The main benefit of the book is that is proposes the idea that gardening upwards is a viable and beautiful thing. The book adds to the discussion and cultural viewpoint that growing up is as normal as growing flat.

In todays society where building upwards is commonplace we need to catch up and grow upwards as well. Our balance with nature and the planet depends on it.

vertical garden installation

plants-on-wall

Eco Brooklyn is a NY living wall installer. We install sedum walls, grass walls and mixed plant walls. Vertical gardens and living walls is an increasing part of our business as we expand into ecological gardening, green roofs and living walls. We focus on low maintenance soil living walls that consume little potable water or gray water and harvested rain water.

We combine the living wall with other parts of the house so that the household gray water is reused to feed the wall. We set up rain water collection systems to route the water into the wall instead of into the sewer. The idea is to create beauty out of waste and ugliness. We take a barren wall, combine it with waste water that normally floods our sewers and rivers and turn the ingredients into a vibrant beautiful space.

The synergies are many – we divert water from sewers, increase the insulation value of the wall, increase the beauty, increase the flora and fauna of the neighborhood and ultimately help re-balance the human/nature relationship.

We do this with all out New York green contractor work but being a living wall installer is especially poignant since the addition of life is so startling in contrast to the barren wall we cover. Simply put, we love it!

Plastic

Most of us have probably come to recognize that plastic is an extremely difficult item to cut out of our lives. From tupperware to composite lumber, plastic has become so engrained in the modern way of life, most people do not even realize how strong their dependency is upon it. There are ways, however, to curb the impact of our plastic addiction on both the environment and our health.

The EPA’s Resin Identification Code for plastics categorizes plastic into seven numbers. The numbers are useful for consumers who can tell whether a plastic product is recyclable in their neighborhood based on the ID number. For example, #1 and #2 (PET and HDPE) are considered the “most” recyclable and can be broken down into their base form and reworked entirely. Examples of these categories are translucent milk jugs, soda bottles, and plastic bags.

Moreover, the system also shows which types are most harmful to human health. #3 (PVC) and #7 (Other) are considered particularly hazardous to health. The chemicals in plastic have the ability to leach onto food, especially when they are left in the sun or microwave. According to an article in Health magazine, #3 and #7 are often used in “cling-wrap” for meats and cheeses, and plastic baby bottles. Chemical intake can lead to lowered testosterone levels, malformation in children, and cancer. Our advice against this? Buy a refillable metal water bottle and transfer your meats and cheeses to a paper container as fast as possible.

Construction and building is the number two user of plastic products (second only to packaging). According to the EPA, only about 8 percent of plastic waste generated in 2011 was reclaimed for recycling (http://www.reportlinker.com/ci02375/Plastic.html) This is impacted by the fact that most common plastics in construction are rarely recyclable (especially PVC piping). According to a 2000 Green Paper, only 3 percent of PVC is recycled, 17% incinerated, and 80% landfilled. These numbers have improved in recent memory, owing in part to a popular trend in Europe to recycle PVC in window-making (including Eco Brooklyn friend, Klearwall http://ecobrooklyn.com/klearwall-windows-doors/) . One way around this problem is to use PEVA (non-chlorinated vinyl), which is biodegradable and does not contain the hazardous chemicals of PVC.

Christopher Jeffrey

Exterior Shades – The Anti-Heat Wave of the Future

Temperature has assuredly become a hot topic in offices throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan during the recent heat wave. Eco Brooklyn’s office is no exception to the heat. However, we have a unique approach to the problem.

Passive housing has been a cornerstone of environmental design since the ancient Greeks and Romans (check out this article on the history of passive housing: http://www.planetseed.com/relatedarticle/energy-efficient-building-passive-heating-and-cooling). While technology and techniques have become more advanced, many of the principles used by the ancients have stood the test of time. Most notably, this includes the use of exterior shades to protect from heat in the summer while allowing sunlight in during the winter.

Exterior shades differ from internal shades in a few major ways. Perhaps the biggest difference is that when using internal shades, the sunlight is allowed to enter the room through the window. The heat will be trapped inside of the shades. As it dissipates on the interior, the home is heated much faster.

The second major difference between interior and exterior shades is the dynamic ways one can utilize external shades and shutters. For example, the use of an overhang is an effective way of using angles to shade the windows during the summer when the sun is high. When the sun is lower in the winter, the sun can enter the room under the overhang.

Furthermore, this concept of exterior shading offers an opportunity for synergy – a mark of sustainability in the green building community. Currently, Eco Brooklyn’s offices employ the use of internal honeycomb shades, which are highly effective at absorbing heat. However, we have plans of making an even more effective and synergistic approach. Namely, we would like to install an exterior overhang to accomplish the above-stated goals; with one catch: We will install solar panels on the overhang to absorb the heat and reroute it to power the house. This is a great example of an integrated solar power system.

As global temperatures and sea levels continue to rise across the world (especially in NYC: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/10/new-york-city-flooding-by-2050_n_3417348.html), New Yorkers will be expected to assume a heavy burden of increasing energy bills. One way to combat these growing expenses is by building green. Passive housing is a great way to not only take advantage of the Earth’s natural energy, but prevent it from escaping your house as well.

Another approach to natural cooling is to use a green facade, or living wall. This concept involves the use of growing vines and other vegetation in a vertical direction to cover a wall or other surface of a building that is in direct sunlight. Green walls can vary in design and allow room for creativity. For further information on green walls check out this link: http://www.greenscreen.com/direct/GS_AdvancedGreenFacadeDesign.pdf

A thermal camera reveals the cooling factor of a green wall over solid surfaces.

A thermal camera reveals the cooling factor of a green wall over solid surfaces.

Christopher Jeffrey

Klearwall Windows and Doors

Eco Brooklyn was visited today by Klearwall Industries. Klearwall is a certified Passive House windows company. Originally based in Ireland, Klearwall is looking to make its mark in the US market. They offer triple-paned windows and doors for domestic and commercial needs, ranging from single-window installation to entire buildings. Their windows are billed as eco-clad, future-proof, and affordable. All of this is with good reason. 

Klearwall boasts an R-Value as high as 9.8hr.ft².˚F/BTU, which results in a 60% to 74% solar heat gain (depending on single or double glaze). Their PVC frame option is guaranteed to last 35 years and is sold at a bargain of approximately $33 per square foot.

Klearwall’s products are designed, fitted, and tempered in Ireland and shipped to the United States. Their plant is one of the largest carbon neutral factories in Europe and is powered solely by renewable energy. They offer a range of products – from windows in all-wood, aluminum, PVC, or a combination. The PVC and aluminum used is recycled from salvage jobs and treated at the plant.

As a pioneer in passive housing, Eco Brooklyn is always interested in companies such as Klearwall for their business strategy and philosophy. We wish them all the best as they try to help make New York a greener place.

Check out their website at http://www.klearwall.com/

A model of Klearwall triple paned window.

A model of Klearwall triple paned window.

Crown Heights Project – 100% Salvaged Material Fence

Eco Brooklyn has been working on an interesting sustainable project in the Crown Heights area. The challenge is to build a fence using only salvaged material.

How does this project work?

Our green building team collects extraneous wood from the local company, U.S. Fencing Systems, Inc. The staff there are extremely gracious and are happy to see the wood go to good use rather than having to see it lugged off by dump trucks every week. The wood is then transported to the work cite where interns and construction workers de-nail the wooden planks, cut them for sizing, and mount the planks onto the salvaged metal poles extracted from a dumpster near Prospect Park.

This job is a captivating snapshot of what we do as green builders. By reaching out to local businesses and the community, people get excited about sustainability and are more likely to build it forward.

Christopher Jeffrey

Crown Heights Fence

Klearwall PH Windows

energy-saving-windows-doors

As New York passive house builders, Eco Brooklyn gets approached by many distributors offering Passive House   products. Recently Klearwall, a PH window company located in Ireland, informed us of their intended expansion in New York City. Klearwater offers thermal bridging calculations, which shows how much energy will be conserved by the instillation of their triple pane windows. The windows are PH certified and manufactured in a plant powered by renewable energy.  The plant is carbon neutral and harnesses its energy from two on site wind turbines and a co-gen plant.

Check them out!

http://www.klearwall.com/

passive-house-windows_1

 

Everydaytrash.com features Eco Brooklyn

Here is a cool little site that highlights everyday trash, that stuff we throw away without thinking much about it. They gave Eco Brooklyn a mention the other day. We build all sorts of things from garbage, from garden patios out of salvaged bricks to entire brownstones. Nice to be recognized for our green contracting work,

Green contractor

We recently built this garden for a client who had high lead levels in his soil. The bricks and bluestone come from a dumpster (several, actually). Eco Gardens are our passion and it starts with rainwater control (notice the sand between the bricks), salvaged materials and native plants.

Factory-Built Homes Are the Future?

I got an email from Jetson Green today with the title “Factory-Built Homes Are the Future”. This is quite the statement. With few exceptions throughout history homes have been built on site by hand. The idea that a home is built in a factory with high tech machines and then plopped down on the site changes things drastically.

They mention one company that builds the house in the factory “using advanced software systems, automated cutting machines, and a streamlined manufacturing process… the fabricated elements are then stacked and packed, again using software to optimize the use of space, and assembled on-site in about one to three days.”

The total time to make the house is 20-60 days. The homes are Passive House standard with renewable energy systems.

As a green builder this reality is a little disconcerting. Although the company offers images of single homes surrounded by nature, for me the idea of homes built in a factory bring up an image similar to the one below of a low income suburb in Mexico:

But I understand that Jetson Green is onto a growing trend. Just like everything else, homes will also be built like Model T Fords. It makes a lot of sense from a financial point of view. It can be argued that the savings in materials also makes sense from an ecological point of view.

It is possible that many generations from now most people buy factory made homes and a small handful (the wealthy and the outcasts) build homes the old fashion way. The wealthy can afford to build “hand made custom” homes. The outcasts choose not to buy off the shelf – think earthship.

But it is possible that for most people the factory built home becomes the most affordable option. Prefab homes have yet to hit the mainstream market and most homes are still built on site. But I suspect this will change.

As a green builder I am not worried prefab will take my job any more than painters should fear photography took their job. As systems and technology changes so does the green builder.

And there will always be room for both, just like there is room for Coors beer and local handcrafted beer.

And very importantly I think we have a long way to go before it becomes ecologically justified to tear down existing structures and replacing them with a prefab home instead of renovating. For now renovation is by far more ecological than building new.

Here is an example of their prototype factory built home:

Leave Your Surroundings Cleaner Than When You Arrived

When I first started mentoring interns one of the first things I told them was that they always had to leave their work area cleaner than when they came to it. Over time this metaphor became the most powerful thing I think I can teach them.

Leave your surroundings cleaner than when you arrived…..

If that isn’t the most beautiful mantra to live by I don’t know what is. And unless it isn’t painfully obvious, by “cleaner” I don’t mean organized or disinfected. I mean leave nothing behind but footprints in the sand.

And because of the laws of entropy this does not mean simply not making a mess. By merely living you make a mess. Even the most austere yogi consumes, kills other creatures, and creates waste. So if you really want to leave the world cleaner than when you arrived you have to actively clean up.

And you can’t just clean up after yourself. Because the world is global and most of your mess is actually being made by a manufacturer across the planet, it isn’t enough to simply keep your own life clean. You have to proactively clean up after others if you want to even make a dent in the mess your life creates around the world.

As a New York green builder I am blessed by an occupation where I spend my days cleaning up after other people. So this mantra is easy for me. We are constantly salvaging other peoples’ garbage and creating beautiful eco homes out of it. I can think of nothing more satisfying than knowing each day I have made the world a better place. I am very grateful.

Here is a great clip on this topic that shows how you can create friendship, a sense of connection, a sense of purpose and a sense of fulfillment by simply picking up garbage. It is a powerful and simple message, and one that I plan on doing with my interns. We are going to the Gowanus Canal, which happens to be a block from the Eco Brooklyn Green Show House, with a bunch of garbage bags and a six pack of good beer to leave it cleaner than when we arrived.

Fun Built with Salvaged Material

The growth in sustainable and green living has given rise to a movement of eco-tourism in a variety of forms across the country.  Specifically the use of salvaged materials is making a breakthrough in the realm of practical and/ or novel green construction.

Across the country salvaged building trends and communities are blossoming and their projects range from the awe-inspiring to the comical.  I recently came across this link to a list of 8 “roadside” attractions made primarily or entirely of salvaged materials:

 

http://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/eco-tourism/photos/8-roadside-attractions-made-from-salvaged-materials/must-see-places

 

There’s a beer can house, a quilted-oil-protesting-gas station, and the largest tree house ever built (complete with sanctuary and basketball court).  Besides roadside attractions I’ve come to find through friends and my own travels a number of interesting things made by hand with salvaged materials.

Made from recycled material

The Recycled Roadrunner.

Once a year in Glover, Vermont there is a gathering of people, “The Human Powered Carnival”, that is the only (to my knowledge) 100% handmade and human powered carnival in existence.

 

Internationally there is a movement of “freeganism”, a life style based around obtaining all necessary materials to live well without using money, this means dumpster diving for food, squatting (sometimes clandestinely), bartering services, and general scavenging.  There is enough usable waste produced by most large companies and institutions to feed, clothe and shelter everyone who needs it.  This movement is intrinsically related to the Human Powered Carnival, there is no advertisement besides word of mouth and there is an air of communal co-operation in all aspects of the event, from cooking to cleaning and operating the rides.

One of Cyclecides attractions

In a similar spirit, in California, there is “cyclecide”.  Cyclecide is an organization based on finding expressive, interactive and alternate uses for bicycles and bike parts.  This idea sprang in 1996 and is rooted in a “freegan” ideology, their first pieces came from dumpstered bikes and some still do.  Their main event is a touring “bike rodeo” featuring varied attractions, from art installations to interactive bike or “pedal” powered rides, and valuable information.  This rodeo is not for the faint of heart, group events and contests such as tall bike jousting, while extremely fun and entertaining do pose some real danger, perhaps that’s what makes it so fun?

This is an excerpt from their website that clearly describes the group’s core beliefs;

“We remain passionately devoted to the idea of the bicycle as a piece of interactive kinetic sculpture that can make music, breathe fire, even save the world!”

 

Cyclecide

Cyclecide

What I find most exciting about this small grassroots movement is its power to subtly invoke great change in a person’s cognition, with the near comic novelty of some of these art pieces and attractions people will let their mental guards down and approach this concept with a more open and relaxed mind, which is sure to get the wheels turning in ones head (whether pedal powered or not).

Sustainable Wood

Last Tuesday the EcoBrooklyn interns attended the dasHAUS symposium and tour in White Plains, New York. The touring exhibition features the mobile dasHAUS pavilion, constructed of fully functioning sustainable energy technologies. The pavilion’s design is inspired by the Technical University of Darmstadt’s winning Solar Decathlon entries in 2007 and 2009. The tour, organized by the German American Chamber of Commerce, is meant to engage and educate the community while also connecting industry professionals. After a series of lectures by various professionals in related fields, the attendees were guided through the pavilion and introduced to the unique elements of the design.

The docent mentioned that every piece of the pavilion is German aside from the “sustainable” oak floors. We were intrigued by the concept of sustainable oak since oak trees are protected by law and the meaning of sustainable is often skewed by marketers.  Upon further questioning the docent shared that oak is a particularly good insulator wood, but that he was unsure of what sustainable wood entailed.

After some research we found that there are more than 50 certification systems worldwide, the two largest being the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). Both are third-party certifiers in that they are independent and non-governmental. In North America, the three additional certification systems endorsed by the PEFC are the American Tree Farm System (ATFS), the Canadian Standards Association’s Sustainable Forest Management Standard, and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) Program. Currently only 10% of the forests in the world have been certified as sustainable.

The Forest Stewardship Council was the first established third-party certification system and many others followed suit. There is criticism that the abundance of certification systems results in consumer confusion in relation to standards, therefore allowing some systems to uphold laxer standards.

LEED only accepts certification systems that adhere to the USGBC Forest Certification Systems Benchmark. A draft is available here: https://www.usgbc.org/ShowFile.aspx?DocumentID=6225

Currently only Forest Stewardship Council – certified wood is eligible for LEED points. FSC accredits its associated certification bodies and checks compliance through audits.

The FSC has 10 general principles for responsible forest management:

Principle 1: Compliance with laws and FSC Principles – to comply with all laws, regulations, treaties, conventions and agreements, together with all FSC Principles and Criteria.
Principle 2: Tenure and use rights and responsibilities – to define, document and legally establish long-term tenure and use rights.
Principle 3: Indigenous peoples’ rights – to identify and uphold indigenous peoples’ rights of ownership and use of land and resources.
Principle 4: Community relations and worker’s rights – to maintain or enhance forest workers’ and local communities’ social and economic well-being.
Principle 5: Benefits from the forest – to maintain or enhance long term economic, social and environmental benefits from the forest.

Principle 6: Environmental impact – to maintain or restore the ecosystem, its biodiversity, resources and landscapes.

Principle 7: Management plan – to have a management plan, implemented, monitored and documented.

Principle 8: Monitoring and assessment – to demonstrate progress towards management objectives.

Principle 9: Maintenance of high conservation value forests – to maintain or enhance the attributes which define such forests.

Principle 10: Plantations – to plan and manage plantations in accordance with FSC Principles and Criteria.

The FSC certification promotes forests that are exemplary of ecologically, economically, and socially sustainable management practices. Sustainability has been defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, so the certification ensures that forest managers ensure the long-term health of the forest in question.

FSC also provides chain-of-custody certification, which takes into account all companies that have touched the lumber before it is purchased by a consumer.

The detailed standards can be found at www.fsc.org.

The certification systems promote responsible building practices by allowing builders to work with sustainable materials.  At EcoBrooklyn, we try to work mostly with salvaged materials, which is the most sustainable option available. Certified woods offer an acceptable alternative. We urge builders and contractors to consider purchasing certified woods for their projects.

 

Is New York the Next Venice?

Sea level rise on the East Coast  is accelerating at a rate much faster compared to the rest of the world. After analyzing tide levels data from North America, scientists have unexpectedly found that there is a 1,000 km-long sea-level rise (SLR) hotspot on the highly populated Eastern coast of North America.

 

The hot spot stretches from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, to the Boston area and continues to climb by about 2 to 3.8 millimeters a years- roughly 3-4 times higher than the global average.

Contrary to popular belief the global sea level is not rising at a consistent rate. The variations are the result of dynamic processes, which arise from circulation and variations in temperature and salinity, disruptions in Earth’s changing gravity, rotation and shape.

Sea levels are expected to rise as global warming continues to intensify, melting polar ice caps. As global temperatures continue to rise, the ocean absorbs the majority of the heat, resulting in the expansion of oceanic water.

Over 141,000 New York citizens are currently living within three feet of high tide- the same amount of sea level that will rise by 2100. It has also been reported that land 3.3 feet below sea level will one day be permanently underwater, this could occur within 100 years.

It is the potential of storms that should really have New Yorkers worried. The NY metro area hosts the nations highest density population that is vulnerable to the sea level rise.

It doesn’t help that the NY harbor is a funnel shade that would only help to magnify a storm surge.

Our homes and infrastructure are often built to withstand a “hundred-year storm”- a storm with such magnitude that there is a one percent chance it would occur in any given year. But what will happen to our built environment when 100-year storms begin to occur every 10 year and a 10-year storm is a regular event? We as green contractors need to start looking into the quality and longevity of our buildings today in order to better prepare clients and ourselves for the future.

In addition to strengthening our structures we may need to reassess where we are building.

As the likelihood of flooding and storm surges increases, we are beginning to be forced to reevaluate where we live. Much of New York City is just 16 feet above the mean sea level; some parts of Manhattan are only five feet above sea level! Some scientists are suggesting a drastic approach to future development of New York City: move the majority of people to high-lying areas and leaving the low-lying area as parks and buffer zones.

But there is hope! New York is among the best prepared cities in the country.

Last year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he was donated 50 million to The Sierra Club, the nations largest environmental ground for their “Beyond Coal” campaign. Their campaign aims to halt the opening of coal plants which are responsible for about 20% of global carbon emissions.

“Planning for climate change today is less expensive than rebuilding an entire network after a catastrophe,” said Mayor Bloomberg in a release in 2009.

It seems that the definition of “sustainable” is a continuously changing; building for the future not only means creating a build environment with longevity but building an environment that can withstand the power of nature.

Here is a link which shoes how your area will be affected my rising sea levels.

 

 

 

Green Roof Professional certification

The Green Roof Professional (GRP) certification system was developed by Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, a not-for-profit industry association working to promote and develop the market for the green roofs throughout North America.

In addition to providing a professional accreditation program, the organization facilitates the exchange of information, supports research, and promotes the establishment of effective public policies. The organization presents Awards of Excellence to celebrate innovative professionals and organizes the annual CitiesAlive conference to develop supportive policies.

Green Roofs for Healthy Cities has been committed to developing a professional accreditation program to legitimize green roof designers and provide education to fill knowledge gaps and improve the quality of work.

In 2004, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities developed its first training course, Green Roof Design 101. It has since added Green Roof Design and Installation 201, Green Roof Waterproofing and Drainage 301, and Green Roof Plants and Growing Media 401. The classes are available in Toronto, New York, Atlanta, and Denver on select dates. They are each full-day courses recommended as a part of the GRP training program. The following half-day courses are also available, and count as continuing education credits:

·  Advanced Green Roof Maintenance

·  Introduction to Rooftop Urban Agriculture

·  Green Walls 101: Systems Overview and Design (2nd Ed.)

·  Integrated Water Management for Buildings and Sites

·  Ecological Green Roof Design

·  Green Infrastructure: Policies, Performance and Projects

·  Green Roof Policy Development

Each course is accompanied by a course manual, which includes all the material on the accreditation exam.

Unfortunately, the accreditation process is rather expensive. Tuition for each full-day course is $399 USD and is accompanied by a course manual. Each course manual can be purchased for $199 USD separately for those who choose not to take the classes in person. The accreditation exam itself consists of 100 multiple-choice questions and lasts 2 hours. It costs $495 USD to enroll and cannot be taken online, but is only offered in Denver, Toronto, New York, and Chicago, incurring further transportation costs. In order to maintain GRP Certification, you must be a Green Roofs for Healthy Cities member ($160 USD annually), and renew your certification every 2 years. This involves completing a minimum of 16 continuing education credits, 8 of which must for GRHC related activities, and paying a renewal fee of $95 USD. Interestingly, each continuing education course is listed at 3.5 units, effectively forcing members to increase the number of classes they must take to maintain their accreditation. Some of the half-day courses can be taken online for $125 USD as part of the Living Architecture Academy.

While the accreditation process may be designed to increase the reliability of green roof designers, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities is also cashing in on the deal. The North American green roof industry grew by 115% in 2011, drawing many more interested professionals and increasing public awareness. Much like LEED in their field, GRHC monopolizes the accreditation process and effectively takes advantage of all the growth.

The existence of the certification is a double-edged sword: while it assures potential consumers that the professional hired has a sound informational backing, it also forces those who want to become green roofers to submit to the monopoly as it becomes the standard.

As a guerrilla green builder, EcoBrooklyn works with clients who seek the most cutting edge techniques. We reduce the net energy of each project by maximizing the use of natural and salvaged materials. The green roof methods taught in the GRP program adhere to the contemporary methodology involving plastics and other foreign materials. While we agree with the basic ideals driving GRHC’s mission (in that the application of green roofs is an essential component to reducing building impact and bettering the urban environment), we do not believe that adhering to the methods prescribed in the accreditation program are necessarily the only right way to build a green roof. In addition, as the organization grows, there is the danger that monetary and political pressures skew the curriculum towards supporting certain brands and materials which may not necessarily be the most ecologically friendly. The GRP curriculum is updated to include new knowledge, and we hope that GRHC’s updates will move towards greater net sustainability.

As it stands, the program is a good way for interested people to learn about green roofs as long as they allow themselves to expand on the ideas taught by GRHC. While we applaud Green Roofs for Healthy Cities’ organizational and promotional achievements, we hope that it does not become a prerequisite to legitimize oneself in the field but instead serves as a possible stepping-stone for professionals.

Natural Mosquito Repellent

Brooklyn’s beautiful summer days coax us outdoors to converse and lounge in our parks, backyards, and porches. In the heat of the summer, water features are a welcome cooling sight and draw the abundance of people looking to maximize their free time. However, these same water features are also home to pesky mosquitoes, diminishing the quality of our outdoor experiences.

At Eco Brooklyn, we are developing natural methods of mosquito control. These methods aim to diminish the mosquito’s presence while maintaining the balance of our fragile local ecosystems. We have a mosquito-repellant service with several components and options, which we make available to the community in an attempt to combat the mosquito problem on a larger scale.

Our service uses three main tools to reduce mosquitoes:

1. Landscaping Mosquito repellent plants – yards, pots and living walls.

2. Water features for mosquito predators – Fish and Dragonfly ponds.

3. Natural oils applied to the skin and garden area surfaces.

New York and Brooklyn were originally full of marshes, rivers and wetlands, which most probably had lots of mosquitoes. The difference now is that those areas are gone, and so are all the creatures and plants that kept mosquitoes at bay.

Now, with little left but clogged gutters and putrid waterways like the Gowanus Canal, there are few predators to the mosquito. Add to that the introduction of non-native mosquitoes from Asia that have even less predators here, and you have a real mosquito heaven (for the mosquito that is. Not for us humans).

Mosquitoes are a problem worldwide.  A wide variety of defenses have been put into effect to reduce the impact of the insect, some with more success than others.

Many of these methods have negative affects on the surrounding environment and may in fact be simultaneously attacking the mosquito’s natural predators. Broad-spectrum insecticides such as the organic pesticide Pyrethrum may kill mosquitoes and other insect pests, but they also kill beneficial pest-controlling insects such as ladybugs and lacewings.

Any attempt to reduce mosquito numbers must be founded in the natural lifecycle of the mosquito itself. The mosquito lays its eggs in standing water and hatches as larva before changing into pupae, then emerging and taking flight. Any standing water greater than a bottle cap’s full can serve as a mosquito-breeding site.

As such it is very important to eliminate small containers that have the potential to fill with rainfall and remain inactive. The elimination of all rainwater collection sites, however, is far from necessary. Slightly larger ponds can be effective methods of mosquito control by acting as habitats for the mosquito’s natural predators.

Some of the mosquito’s natural predators are dragonflies, damselflies, bats, and numerous fish species. While bats do consume mosquitoes, they are at most 5% of their diet. Extensive bat preservation policies, while beneficial to the bat, may not in fact greatly diminish the inhabiting mosquito population. Many fish will consume mosquitoes, but some are better adapted to the task than others.

Fish

The highly touted mosquitofish Gambusia affinis can consume 42-167% of its body weight in mosquitoes per day.  Its mouth is faced upwards towards the sky, allowing for more efficient consumption of mosquito larvae. It can tolerate various temperature changes in the water, salinity, decreased food supply, and organic pollutants and is compatible with goldfish, koi, and karp.

A nonnative species, it was first introduced to New York’s waters as a biological control for mosquitoes. However, mosquitofish were found to be ill-adapted to the cooler waters. Most importantly, it is not compatible with native species and very few instances of coexistence exist.

As such EcoBrooklyn does not recommend the introduction of mosquitofish into existing garden ponds. If your brownstone garden already includes a fish pond, we recommend finding a hardy native fish species that can reproduce in the local climate, such as the fathead minnow.

Dragonflies and Damselflies

Fish are not the only mosquito predator reliant on a pond source. Dragonflies and damselflies lay their eggs in foliage above or below the waterline of a pond. They then hatch as aquatic predators, consuming mosquito larva to feed and grow.

Depending on the species, this stage of life takes 1-2 months to 5 years. The larva then climb out of the pond via a plant stalk or rock and seek protection in nearby foliage before taking flight and attacking mosquito adults.

The life cycle of dragonflies and damselflies therefore shadows that of the mosquito, but the predator-prey relationship remains the same effectively controlling mosquito populations. Adult dragonflies and damselflies return to water features to feed and sun themselves, and eventually lay eggs in the pond.

Eco Brooklyn offers a dragonfly pond building service as a component of its mosquito solutions. Dragonfly ponds are a beautiful addition to a brownstone garden, and the insects provide welcome entertainment on a summer’s eve.

15% of North America’s 307 dragonfly species are in danger of extinction, and a new dragonfly habitat can help the graceful insects to reestablish themselves while also providing a welcome solution to the mosquito problem!

A dragonfly pond by Carole A. Brown

A dragonfly pond should vary in depth, with a segment around 2 ft in depth and flat rocks such as slate on the shallow side. Water plants should be included in the deeper parts of the pond to serve as nurseries, with perching sedges and rushes on the side for adults. It is also recommended that a small wildflower grassland be planted on the side of the pond.

The pond should include erect and submerged plants to allow for dragonflies and damselflies at all stages of the life cycle. A small pump can be included to keep the water clean and oxygenated, although this is not necessary for larger ponds. While the best dragonfly ponds are 20 feet wide, this width is not practical for a NY lot nor is it necessary to maintaining a healthy population.

In fact, adapted whiskey barrels, fountain basins, and earthen or plastic lined ponds can all provide welcome habitats as long as there are sloped sides and varying depths. The dragonfly larvae like to hide in the depths of the water to escape predation, but sufficient plant cover may substitute for that in the case of shallower ponds.

A simple stake in the pond can substitute for erect perching plants. It is very important that the pond be 70% in the sun and that no fish are added to the water.

Fish consume dragonfly larva as well as mosquito larva and are therefore incompatible, unless we design the pond to have two sections so there are safe places for the larvae to escape.

Once the pond is built we jumpstart it with a few spadefulls of soil from a nearby pond with a known dragonfly population.

The following plants work well in a dragonfly pond:

Deepwater -submerged plants

Curly pondweed – Potomogeton crispus

Water Starwort – Callitriche spp

Hornwort – Ceratophyllum demersum

Spiked Water Milfoil – Myrophyllum spicatum

Deeper water Floating Plants

Stiff-leaved Water Crowfoot – Rannunculus circinatus

Frogbit – Hydrocharis morus-ranae

Broad-leaved pondweed – Potomegetum natans

Amphibious Bistort – Polygonum amphibium

Yellow Waterlily – Nurphar lutea

Fringed Waterlily – Nymphoides pelatata

Shallow water emergent plants

Flowering Rush – Butomus umbellatus

Water Horsetail – Equisetum fluviatile

Bur-reed – Sparganium erectum

Water Plantain – Alisma plantago-aquatica

Common Spike Rush – Eleocharis palustris

Bog Bean  – Menyanthes trifoliate

Plants

EcoBrooklyn also installs plants as  a direct means of mosquito control. We offer several plant-based services:

-vertical frames planted with mosquito repellant plants, to be hung on the walls of porches, balconies, and other outdoor activity areas. The frames are made of cedar or pine as both of these woods repel mosquitoes.

-plant troughs filled with mosquito repellant plants, placed near outdoor activity areas

-herbal oil concoctions designed to specifically repel mosquitoes; these can be applied directly to the skin or sprayed on the surfaces of an outdoor activity area

-dried mosquito-repellant plants placed into sachets to be hung in desired locations

Below we have organized known mosquito repellant plants into two categories: native and nonnative species. Edible plants are subcategorized. We work with clients to offer aesthetically pleasing plant combinations.




Once planted, it is advised that plants be brushed before engaging in outdoor activities in order to release some of the scent. The compounds citronellal, geraniol, geranial, and pulegone are all known to repel mosquitoes. Plants containing these compounds are the most effective.

It is important to note that the plants themselves will not repel mosquitoes, it is the oil within their leaves that acts as a repellent. This is why brushing the leaves (resulting in small breaks) helps to repel mosquitoes. Our plant troughs and vertical installations  are meant to be a reliable supplier of leaves for your own herbal concoctions while also aesthetically ameliorating your home.

We highly recommend troughs consisting of edible mosquito repellent plants, which provide the additional ecosystem service of providing food.

Herbal solutions

While there are many variations of mosquito repellant liquids, they are made similarly.

The first method uses actual plant leaves from mosquito repellant plants. These are steeped in water, strained, and then the liquid is added to isopropyl alcohol.  Any combination of plants works well as well as using a single plant per batch.

The second method involves mixing 2 ½ teaspoons of any combination of essential oils (basil, cedarwood, cinnamon, citronella, juniper, lemon, myrrh, palmarosa, pine, rose geranium, rosemary) with 1 cup of 190-proof grain alcohol. These concoctions can be applied directly to the skin or used in a spray bottle. If applied to the skin, it may take some experimentation to determine what combination of oils works best with one’s body chemistry.

As described by the above overview, there are many natural means of combating the mosquito problem in Brooklyn. EcoBrooklyn is constantly improving its services through experimentation in the Green Show House and offers its solutions to the community.

These solutions aim to repel mosquitoes, add to the aesthetic value of Brooklyn brownstones, and support native species and the local ecosystem.

DIY Vertical Gardens

Vertical gardens or living walls are a beautiful and efficient way to maximize green space within an urban context. Aesthetically, vertical gardens can be used to improve the façade of buildings while providing other ecosystem services such as enhanced air quality.

Perhaps first employed by the Mesopotamians to create the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the principles of design have expanded past cascading plants to include plants rooted at different heights of a wall. Living walls vary in size, design, and complexity.

Two of the best-known living walls are on the Marché des Halles in Avignon and the Museé du Quai Branly, both designed by Patrick Blanc. However, man-made living walls are not constrained to grand public buildings.

Marche des Halles en Avignon, designed by Patrick Blanc

It is very feasible to create you own, and in fact personal vertical gardens beautifully complement the exterior of Brooklyn brownstones, although it is recommended a professional be consulted for walls higher than 7 feet.

The character of your vertical garden is determined by the framing material and plant selection. While plant selection may vary by individual taste, native species are generally hardier and better suited to the local climate and pest and disease conditions.

Green landscaping with native species is also a proactive way to support the area’s native ecosystems. You may decide to choose a theme to guide your plant selections, such as a foliage wall, mosquito-repellant wall, epicurean wall (pick your salad ingredients!), aromatic herb wall, or a perfumed wall.

Succulents are easy plants for beginners since they do not need substantial irrigation. For vertical gardens created sans soil, epiphytes and lithophytes are necessary plant selections. Epiphytes attach to other objects solely for physical support and are not parasitic. They obtain nutrients from rain, air, and debris. Common epiphytes in temperate zones such as New York are lichens and mosses.

We will list and describe framing methods with increasing complexity.

The Woolly Packet Garden Company offers a series of “woolly packets”, pouches made from recycled water bottles with an impermeable moisture barrier and felt to wick the water. These packets are easy to install and arrange as you please. Although the design is not constrained to vertical garden use, the pouches lend themselves well to such installations. Watch this video for further description:

Flora Grubb Gardens is featuring an example vertical garden installation in their store.

Wooly Pocket installation

For a more complex system, pre-made frames are available for sale from several manufacturers. Gro-Wall offers easy to stack frames.

VGM also offer green wall modules. Drip irrigation coupled with the effects of gravity water the plants in both systems, although this can also be adapted.

Our favorite option at Eco Brooklyn for small walls is using salvaged pallets as a frame for a living wall. We are currently creating a wooden pallet living wall installation in the Green Showroom. Simple and effective, this method limits the amount of new material needed for the project and decreases life cycle emissions and cost.

Pallet living wall

 

Pallets can often be found for free at local gardening stores. Pallets without significant back support may need to be augmented with scrap wood on the back. You can then staple landscaping paper to the back, bottom, and sides to create a secure void for the soil. Soil is poured through the slats and the selected plants are then planted in place and watered. Once planted, the pallet needs to remain horizontal for one to two weeks until the roots can take and stabilize the soil.

There are two easy ways to create your own frame.

The second method does not require the additions of any soil!

Succulent frames

Method 1: Cut 4 pieces of lumber to the desired length and nail them together at the corners to create a box frame. Staple or nail wire mash to the front face of the frame and a piece of plywood to the back face. Fill the void with soil and then poke the stems from plant cuttings through the mesh. Allow the installation to remain horizontal until the plants are securely rooted. Water lightly or use a drip irrigation system. For smaller frames, it may be easiest to lay it flat when watering and allow the soil to drain before hanging it back up.

Note that the above method works best for small frames, as it does not require a complex irrigation or fertilizer system.

 

Method 2: This last method is the most involved in terms of infrastructure but very rewarding. It isn’t that green either since it requires a pump. It is however the most popular system and many massive walls have been created this way.

Noémie Vialard’s book Gardening Vertically offers a more in-depth description of the process, which was initially developed by Patrick Blanc. While it is possible to make a portable system, it is most effective as a permanent display.

Wooden battens are first fixed to the selected wall space, and then a PVC panel and two layers of irrigation matting are added over the battens. The irrigation system consists of a perforated pipe connected to a pump, which activates a couple times a day for a few minutes.

Nutrients can be diluted into the water tank to fertilize the ecosystem. The plant roots are inserted through holes in the second layer of felt (such that the plant is secured between layers of irrigation matting).

Because the system has no soil substrate, there is no water retention. To mitigate the high water usage, you may want to plant perennials at the foot of the wall to consume surplus water or create a fish pond at the base. Use gray water to irrigate if possible.

Apart from the electric load, this system is not sustainable in another way: if you stop the pump the plants die quickly since there is no humid soil to keep them. In that sense it is a very artificial environment. The closest natural habitat is a rock wall in a tropical jungle.

For this reason we prefer the soil based living walls. We build our own structure instead of buying pre-made products because it allows us to save costs and customize to the space.

A vertical garden installation can beautifully augment the aesthetic value of your home. Living walls do not need to be grandiose or complex and the concept can easily be adapted to personal usage. Outdoor walls are easier because you don’t have to worry about flooring issues in the house. But indoor walls, provided they get sunlight, don’t get blasted by weather extremes. Indoor walls need special attention to avoid mold issues, but if that is under control they add a freshness to the air that is wonderful.

Eco Brooklyn is a living wall installer because we really love what a living wall does to a space. It fits perfectly with our mission to turn NY green!

The Living Building Challenge- Winner of the 2012 Buckminster-Fuller Challenge

Green building and eco-sensitive design is currently at the forefront of our modern ethos.   What this means for the green builders, contractors and architects of NY, and the world, is a period of dramatic change and challenge is ahead if not already begun. A change in the way we think about new buildings and construction, in how we consider “used” materials and how we use and interact with space.

As Scholar David Orr stated-

“We are coming to an era the likes of which we’ve never seen before, we’re in the white waters of human history. We don’t know what lies ahead. Bucky Fuller’s ideas on design are at the core of any set of solutions that will take us to calmer waters.”

 

One of the most prominent voices in sustainability and responsible design since the 1960’s is R. Buckminster Fuller.  Fuller pioneered in fields from architecture, and mathematics, to engineering and automobile design and only patented 12 designs allowing the vast majority of his work to be open-sourced and free to the public.

His life’s mission and philosophy was simple, “to make the world work for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or disadvantage of anyone.”

Even today, years after Fuller’s death his name is still the vanguard of the sustainable design community. The largest testament to his legacy is the R. Buckminster Fuller Institute and their annual international competition the Buckminster Fuller Design Challenge.

According to the institution’s website $100,000 is given “…to support the development and implementation of a strategy that has significant potential to solve humanity’s most pressing problems. Named “Socially-Responsible Design’s Highest Award” by Metropolis Magazine, it attracts bold, visionary, tangible initiatives focused on a well-defined need of critical importance. Winning solutions are regionally specific yet globally applicable and present a truly comprehensive, anticipatory, integrated approach to solving the world’s complex problems.”

In 2012 at an awards ceremony held here in NYC at Cooper Union The International Living Future Institute was awarded first prize for their “Living Building Challenge” initiative.  According to the institute’s website the Living building Challenge is:

-a PHILOSOPHY, ADVOCACY PLATFORM AND CERTIFICATION PROGRAM. Because it defines priorities on both a technical level and as a set of core values, it is engaging the broader building industry in the deep conversations required to truly understand how to solve problems rather than shift them.

-an EVOCATIVE GUIDE. By identifying an ideal and positioning that ideal as the indicator of success, the Challenge inspires project teams to reach decisions based on restorative principles instead of searching for ‘least common denominator’ solutions. This approach brings project teams closer to the objectives we are collectively working to achieve.

-a BEACON. With a goal to increase awareness, it is tackling critical environmental, social and economic problems, such as: the rise of persistent toxic chemicals; climate change; habitat loss; the collapse of domestic manufacturing; global trade imbalances; urban sprawl; and the lack of community distinctiveness.

-a ‘UNIFIED TOOL’. Addressing development at all scales, it can be equally applied to landscape and infrastructure projects; partial renovations and complete building renewals; new building construction; and neighborhood, campus and community design.

-a PERFORMANCE-BASED STANDARD. Decidedly not a checklist of best practices, the Challenge leads teams to embrace regional solutions and respond to a number of variables, including climate factors and cultural characteristics.

-a VISIONARY PATH TO A RESTORATIVE FUTURE

The challenge seeks to encourage designers to bridge the gap between the built environment and the surrounding ecosystems thus reinventing the typical developers’ business model and transforming the role of the building occupant from passive to more of an involved partnership with the earth and her resources.

For all manner of development the Living Building Principles are applicable, whether, “… a single building, a park, a college campus or even a complete neighborhood community, Living Building Challenge provides a framework for design, construction and the symbiotic relationship between people and all aspects of the built environment.”

You can download a complete document that outlines the specific requirements and benchmarks that must be met to receive certification HERE.

With its radical and rigorous requirements, this is more than “green washing”.  This is an excerpt from a statement released by The Fuller Institute after the award ceremony;

“The Living Building Challenge (LBC) is setting the standard for how to build in the 21st century by establishing the highest bar yet for environmental performance and ecological responsibility within the built environment … by “building a new model” and establishing new benchmarks for non-­‐toxic, net-­‐zero structures… The Living Building Challenge goes far beyond current best practices, reframing the relationship between the built and natural environments. LBC seeks to lead the charge toward a holistic standard that could yield an entirely new level of integration between building systems, transportation, technology, natural resources, and community. If widely adopted, this approach would significantly enhance the level of broad-­‐based social collaboration throughout the design and building process and beyond, dramatically reducing the destructiveness of current construction, boost the livability, health, and resilience of communities … the International Future Living Institute is charting a new and critically needed course in an industry that arguably remains one of the most consumptive … The LBC’s model of regenerative design in the built environment could provide a critical leverage point in the roadmap to a sustainable future and is an exemplary trim tab in its potential to catalyze innovation in such a high impact, high consumption industry…”

This is a valuable new asset and tool for the green building and green contracting community in NYC nd abroad in the fight for a greener and livable tomorrow.

 

https://ilbi.org/lbc  -living building challenge website

http://challenge.bfi.org/Winners/Challenge_Winners

http://bfi.org/  -Buckminster-fuller institute website

Reverse Environmental Building Footprint Via Salvage

Here are some interesting numbers from the Binational Softwood Lumber Council (BSLC) on the environmental footprint of building three similar homes from three three different materials – wood, metal and concrete. I’m sure you can guess what their numbers show: that wood is the greenest option.

I don’t know whether their numbers are based in reality or simply green-washing by the timber industry (I suspect the later), but either way for a small New York green contractor like Eco Brooklyn these numbers mean very little.

The BSLC is calculating numbers based on new raw materials to build new homes – the most wasteful kind of construction. Arguing whether new wood is better than new metal or new concrete is like arguing whether it is greener to fly via private jet or private helicopter.

They are stuck in an era that no longer exists:

Ah yes the good old days of abundant resources and stupidity. Now we are left with only stupidity.

True green building does not use new materials or build new buildings in the first place. If you are Eco Brooklyn you build with reused old materials to renovate existing homes – the most ecological kind of reconstruction.

The environmental footprint of using new materials to build new houses is like buying with your credit card. You are using up natural resources to create something that won’t last. But if you take a piece of wood out of the dump and use it to make an existing house last longer you are doing something different: you clean up the world on both ends of the production chain – both at the dump and in the home.

With this green building you actually create a negative environmental footprint in that you help reverse the impact of building on the planet. Instead of spending with credit you put cash into the bank as future savings.

Nonetheless here is their justification of using soft wood over metal or concrete with their sources below. Maybe somebody wants to look into it and see how valid the numbers are.

Environmental Footprint

The chart below illustrates how each of the designs performed against five key indicators of environmental impact. With two exceptions, the wood-framed homes performed substantially better than their non-wood counterparts. The steel design produced slightly less solid waste and there was no significant difference in emissions to water in Atlanta.

MINNEAPOLIS DESIGN Wood Steel Difference (% Change)
Embodied Energy (GJ) 651 764 113 17%
Global Warming Potential (CO2 kg) 37,047 46,826 9,779 26%
Air Emission Index (index scale) 8,566 9,729 1,163 14%
Water Emission Index (index scale) 17 70 53 312%
Solid Waste (total kg) 13,766 13,641 -125 -0.9%

 

ATLANTA DESIGN Wood Concrete Difference (% Change)
Embodied Energy (GJ) 398 461 63 16%
Global Warming Potential (CO2 kg) 21,367 28,004 6,637 31%
Air Emission Index (index scale) 4,893 6,006 1,114 23%
Water Emission Index (index scale) 7 7 0 0%
Solid Waste (total kg) 7,442 11,269 3,827 51%

Another study conducted by the Canadian Wood Council compared the life cycle impacts of three 2,400 square foot homes designed primarily in wood, steel and concrete over the first 20 years of their lives. Relative to wood, the steel and concrete homes were predicted to:

  • Release 24 percent and 47 percent more air pollution
  • Produce 8 percent and 23 percent more solid waste
  • Use 11 percent and 81 percent more resources
  • Require 26 percent and 57 percent more energy (from extraction through maintenance)
  • Emit 34 percent and 81 percent more greenhouse gases
  • Discharge 4 and 3.5 times more water pollution

These differences may seem small until one realizes that only a small portion of the materials in a house (by weight) are involved in framing. One can expect the impacts to be many times greater when components made from different materials are compared directly.

Sources
More Information

Benefit Corporations law signed and active in New York State!

Finally, a way to pursue the “triple bottom line” (people, planet and profits) with legal backing! It is called the Benefit Corporation (as opposed to a normal C or S Corporation for example). Signed into NY legislation by Governor Cuomo the new law allows businesses to be recognized and filed a for more than their financial goals.

Benefit Corporations have a legal responsibility to all stakeholders, not just the shareholders like a traditional C or S Corps.  This means they are obligated to take into account the effects of their decisions on the community, the environment, employees, etc.  Benefit Corporations can also voluntarily undergo certification by the nonprofit organization B Lab that makes them “Certified B Corporations” and ensures they have a social purpose and benefits for stakeholders.  More on that here .

With the new law, New York is joining states that have already passed similar legislation, including Maryland, Vermont, New Jersey, Virginia, Hawaii, California.

The key distinctions of Benefit Corporations from traditional corporations are these three things:

1)    Purpose: They must have a corporate purpose to create a material positive impact on society and the environment;

2)     Accountability: They must expand the directors’ and employees’ fiduciary duty to require consideration of the interests of workers, community and the environment and all stakeholder

3)     Transparency: They must publicly report annually on overall social and environmental performance against a comprehensive, credible, independent, and transparent third party standard

Other than these three additions, the Benefit Corporations is set up and taxed as a traditional corporation would be.  However, for social entrepreneurs like EcoBrooklyn, this changes everything. It protects the mission and purpose of the business and holds up the triple bottom line as a priority.  In other words, it legally never puts profits for shareholders above the stakeholders – something that social businesses have been trying to do for decades.

B Lab is a nonprofit that helped create the Benefit Corporation and now works to establish the option of a Benefit Corporation in all states through legislation.  Much of the above information came from their website.  More information on the requirements and specific details of a Benefit Corporation here.

New York Contractor Builds Passive House out of Salvaged Materials

Here is a short video we threw together of the Passive House renovation in Harlem. The video mostly discusses the budgeting of the project.

Now that the construction is for the most part done I think that our initial budget of $175/sq.ft is not sustainable. Of course it is great for the client in the long run. But as a company that practices the triple bottom line  – people, planet, profit – our budget did not  satisfy all three items.

Out of the three I can say without a doubt the planet was benefited by this job. We built a Passive House. We salvaged almost everything to build the house, creating a negative impact on the dump, meaning the house removed more garbage from the dump than it created.

Unfortunately the other two items – people and profit – did not get a fair deal. The workers were not paid enough, the client is not happy and the company did not make enough of a profit. Workers and company need to be taken care of in order for us to continue to make a meaningful impact on the world. Happy clients means more opportunities to build green.

The clients came to us with a very tight budget, $800,000, which is not enough for the scope of the complete gut rehab Passive House. $1,200,000 would have been more realistic.

But being realistic in not what got Eco Brooklyn to where it is now. You don’t start a cutting edge green building company because you are realistic. You start it because you are deeply idealistic and willing to sacrifice everything in the hope that it will make a difference to the world. There are huge risks to this.

So in that spirit we took on the job, our main goal to find a way to build a cutting edge green home on an affordable budget. We accomplished this, so from that point of view it was a great success.

But the clients are not happy and the company was hit hard financially. It may seem odd that the clients are not happy given they gained a $1 million plus house for $800K. We literally saved them hundreds of thousands of dollars all the while helping the environment.

But to achieve that we all had to make sacrifices. The main sacrifice was that as a company we could not afford to hire enough management. The job process was rocky. A green company needs to be even better organized than other companies because we are dealing with new cutting edge technologies with steep learning curves and we salvage materials thus we can’t tightly control the delivery time of materials.

This lack of management meant details were missed and client/contractor interaction was not as common. So even though behind the scenes we felt we were performing miracles to save the client money and add value to their home, the client did not see this.

The client simply felt they were paying what to them felt like a lot of money and we were not delivering as smoothly as they wanted. Because they don’t have a good grasp of what things cost it did not matter how many times we told them they would never be able to get this value elsewhere on their budget.

And when they did look elsewhere for comparison they saw crappy building with nice fixtures – the so called luxury condo that looks like a million dollars for the first couple years and costs a fortune to run. When you compare that to our building that does not look as fancy they felt shortchanged.

Never mind ours costs nothing to run and is built to last a hundred years. Those things are not as sexy as sparkling appliances and brand new moldings.

So we felt we were loosing our battle with the clients. It was very frustrating because we believe deeply that the building we made is decades ahead of any building built in the city today.

Core Values

In hindsight the main conflict was between the company’s and the client’s core values.

The company’s core value is clearly to put the benefit of the planet before anything else, with the understanding that by doing this we are benefiting ourselves as well. And in this case we did it to a fault (we should have done less for the planet and more for ourselves in order to continue strong in the long run).

But going balls out for the environment is both our strength and weakness.

The clients core value was to put their own benefit before anything else. This is not to say they did not care about Eco Brooklyn or the environment. But like most people, at the top of list is their own financial security, their family and their home, and when possible, but only when possible they consider the rest of the world.

I get that. I am a family man.

But I am also a green builder and sometimes things get complicated.

The problem was that we feel looking out for the environment is the best thing we can do for the client in the long run, even if it means less of a perfect construction process in the short run. The client however just wants a home for their family. Getting that done is challenge enough, never mind some idealistic and abstract global thinking.

Because of this we found ourselves at odds. For us if we could help the environment more we would. Even at the expense of short term discomforts and stress imposed by our main mistake – not budgeting for enough management and budgeting too much for the green building items – which arose from our over ambitious attempt to build a home for hundreds of thousands less than normally it would cost.

The client however found this inexcusable. If it is a choice to go some time without water in order to get gray water plumbing installed or skip the gray water and have water for their kids to take a bath they pick the later.

Unfortunately we were doing the building and not them. And we are very hard headed.

We picked to do the gray water, which delayed the job and meant the clients went without water for longer. Inexcusable in their eyes. Simply bad management. In our eyes it was a small sacrifice for something that will benefit the planet for many years to come…..which in turn benefits them.

It wasn’t like we expected the client to sacrifice alone. Eco Brooklyn always sacrificed first. If we found a way to satisfy the client and the environment at the cost of our profit then we made sure we did that first. Our priorities were planet, client then us.

Maybe we are wrong. Maybe that priority serves nobody. But I have this idea that we are connected and the ecology is in a lot worse shape than we are. Since we are ecology that needs to be dealt with first……?

But when the client is spending their hard earned money and the feel like the second fiddle, good will goes out the window fast and they stopped caring for us.

Towards the end of the job when we realized our ecological zeal had put our finances in tight stretches we got no mercy from the clients. In their memory was the lack of water and they made sure to withhold money accordingly. Water is just an example our of many conflicts of core values that arose.

What have I learned from this?

I can’t expect others to sacrifice for my cause. Next time I will only take on clients who can afford $1,200,000 and be done with it. They will get the job they were promised and I will be able to build houses that harm the environment a lot less.

This means that many people will be priced out and not benefit from Eco Brooklyn’s amazing green building.

But I have learned the hard way that when things get tight people hunker down and look out for themselves. It is about survival and humans can be the most brutal creatures on earth when they feel their own is being threatened.

I can’t put myself in that position of dealing with clients like that. Nor can I put the clients in that position. The clients of this house are scared. They feel we managed the job recklessly and this puts them at risk.

When they came to us they entrusted us as professionals to guide them in the building of a green home. They had no idea how much emphasis we put on green and at some point they wondered if we even cared about their home.

So in the future we won’t try the affordable green building thing because we can’t trust the client will be as willing as we are to build green. Instead we will charge. That way it won’t be a choice between having water on time or having a gray water system. We will have a budget to do both on time.

The clients of our current house had a tough time of it. I think with time they will forget the discomforts of the building process. As that fades they will see the value of the house. They might even be grateful towards us. But I doubt it.

Would I do it again? Yes. I think the struggle was worth the gain. It is an amazing house.

It is the first time in the history of building that a Passive House was built with such a high percentage of salvaged materials. It is revolutionary. And we did it not on some plot of land in Oregon but in one of the most expensive places to build on earth. For the price of a crap “luxury condo”!

But like all revolutions it was painful. And I am hurting more than anyone. I made sure I put my money where my mouth was. The clients probably will never understand that. But that is ok. I care about the house that we brought into existence.

When we are all dead that house will still be a wonderful home for families. That is a great gift. It is the least I can do for the planet and my fellow humans.

Here is the video that prompted this post.

A Future of Free Energy

Being a green builder is a constant search for more ecological ways of doing things.

That’s why we listened when  Justin Hall-Tipping told us that in the future, all energy could be sustainable, green, and free.

Justin Hall-Tipping, CEO of Nanoholdings, gives a TED talk about the energy applications of carbon nanomaterials.  It’s worth a watch, if you have ten minutes.

A few key points:

  • Carbon nanotubes are 100 times more conductive than copper wire.
  • Transparent sheets of carbon nanomaterials, when paired with a polymer, can be applied to windows (or any surface, really) and convert light into energy.
  • Collected energy can be fed into systems of batteries that store it for later–or be turned back into light and beamed to the next house over.

Widespread applications of this model has mind-boggling implications: free sustainable energy, for everyone, for as long as the sun shines.

The downside is that we couldn’t harness the collaborative powers of the network until the model goes mainstream.  And why would the model go mainstream, when just about every house in a developed nation is already hooked up to a grid and paying into the existing system?  We have the technology to do this.  We also have the technology to make hovercars.  We could be zooming everywhere, but we wouldn’t, because we already have roads and cars that get the job done.  The prohibitive cost and arguably unnecessary risk of replacing entire infrastructures holds us back.

Consumption is already ingrained in our lifestyle to the degree that stepping away from it would take a massive amount of willpower.  Ec0 Br00klyn’s Zero Building method minimizes consumption by using 100% salvaged materials in our projects.  We install green roofs, solar panels, and water recycling systems that help homeowners wean themselves off the official lines.  We help one determined homeowner at a time move beyond consumption, toward a future of free energy.

It’s not easy.  Pushing against “normal” ways of doing things is a daily struggle against our own habits and those of the structures around us, but we can’t NOT fight it, so we forge on.

Justin Hall-Tipping’s research and ideas are very inspiring. We are keeping a keen eye on his developments since it would be a huge leap forward for green building.

Seven Generations – Forever Young

The Native American concept that all our actions today will effect seven generations to come is profound.

Green builders understand this naturally. We build homes that may last hundreds of years, protecting families for many generations. Each nail, each brick is a respectful nod to our ancestors who taught us the wisdom of sustainable building and a gift to our children who will inherit whatever we build, for good or for bad.

Here is a beautiful song to wish upon our children and our children’s children. We build for them.

May god bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you

May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every run
May you stay, forever young

May you stay forever young

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you

May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
And may you stay forever young

Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift

May your heart always be joyful
May your song always be sung
And may you stay forever young

Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young

BOB DYLAN – FOREVER YOUNG LYRICS

True Green Building

Unable to sleep at 4am in New York I came accross this video of an abandoned town renovated by a small group of utopians. It is one of the most inspirational green building stories I have seen in a long time. So often green building is housed withing the capitalistic context where it is just another product to be consumed by and profited from financially.

But here we see a story of true green building. For me green building is almost not about the building but rather about the framework of the people involved. If the people have simply shifted to consuming green building just like you might shift from one brand to another then you really haven’t accomplished much.

But as you see in this video the people have shifted their whole context. Green building is no longer a consumer product. Green building is a lifestyle that required a complete change in consumptive habits, a complete change in how people interact with each other and a complete change in how they interact with their surroundings.

I think this change is good. Do we all need to move to an abandoned village on a mountainside to be truly green? Obviously that might help but no. Your baggage always catches up to you no mater where you go.

It is the mentality of these people that is most important, not their place. Very simply put, they have found that a simple, wholesome lifestyle is better than any consumer product. That is the key to true green building. Waki Sabi, man.

I see the irony of consuming this on my computer in the middle of the night in the city that never sleeps. That is the nature of today’s constantly ON planet. It is not sustainable. Time to go to sleep, or at least try to. Some cycles happen by themselves, others you have to help along.

The cycle of finding a greener way of life on this planet will not happen without us helping it. Like the people in this video who worked very hard to achieve what they have.

Thank You Jesus

Here’s to every immigrant worker in the world. Did you ever think that countries were created to create cheap immigrant workers?

Here at Eco Brooklyn we love immigrant workers. Not because they are cheap labor. Eco Brooklyn pays based on talent alone, not nationality, race or sex. And if you have a family to support we might even pay more, regardless of whether that family is in Brooklyn or Guatemala.

We welcome people who come to America and send their profits elsewhere. Heck, America has been doing that to other countries for ages. We are happy to balance the playing field however small the contribution.

For us immigrants bring great traditional green building skills to New York. and we eat that shit up.

Clay walls, earthen floors, brick work, stone work, wood work and countless other skills are all old world techniques that people have been doing for thousands of years.  These are valuable skills to a green contractor in New York. These techniques are sustainable earth based skills not dependent on high embodied energy but rather on base elements like earth, clay, stone and water.

Here’s to you Jesus!

Building For the Climate Apocalypse

First 2000, and now 2012: Years in which people think the world might possibly end.

The world probably won’t end with a bang, but might just crumble beneath the accumulated consequences of our actions.

Meanwhile, American politicians’ opinions of science, especially climate science, are at an alarming low.  Sometimes TV makes me wonder if there are people who think a 2012 apocalypse is more plausible than global warming.

Watching GOP candidates in debate is a bittersweet experience.  On one hand, the stupid things they occasionally blurt out invariably wind up on YouTube for my amusement.

You-becky-becky becky-becky-stan-stan, anyone?

On the other hand, these guys have a fair shot at becoming arguably the most powerful person in the world.   That’s where the bitter comes in.  They speak in a  sober, defiantly ignorant voice, with the seeming expectation that what they don’t know doesn’t matter.

Sometimes it does matter (a combination of egregious dumbness and sexual sketchiness shamed Cain off the stage) but what scares me is when it doesn’t.

Take Rick Santorum, for example.  Here’s a short excerpt and transcript from a Q&A session he did in New Hampshire last week.

Someone asked how he integrated recent findings of climate change into his policies.  He waved away the whole issue by using scientists, icebergs, and tail-wagging dogs in a meandering metaphor to demonstrate why climate science is not worth considering.

And when he was done talking, people clapped!  Kind of half-heartedly, but still! That stopped The only thing more frightening than ignorance is ignorance with power.

Basically, he argued that there are so many factors so we can’t know for sure what’s causing any changes.  Nevermind that just about anybody with a lick of sense agrees that we’re making a lot of CO2, which gets stuck in the atmosphere.

Nevermind that nobody knows the perfect method for, oh, say, oil mining, but they rough through it anyway because the result is valuable.  Not knowing something doesn’t mean that we should give up; it means we should devote more resources toward finding the answer.  Santorum using ambiguity as a reason to disregard the question only draws attention to how his party has utterly failed at giving climate science the support it needs.

Around Christmas, a short piece showed up in the New York Times about how climate science is stagnating, despite 2011 being one of the most extreme weather years on record.

In May of 2011, 100% of Texas was abnormally dry.  48% was officially in exceptional drought conditions–that’s even more extreme than “extreme drought.”

At the other extreme, New Jersey had an extreme winter: 50.7 inches (more than four feet) fell in my hometown of New Brunswick.  I’ve lived there for 15 years but can count the white Christmases we’ve had on one hand.

These are quick and dirty examples of extreme weather conditions with immediate effects at home.  Objective truths about global warming will emerge as trends in data analysis performed by climate scientists, and I’d like these truths to emerge before they show up as three feet of snow on my car every other week.

It’s true that there are hundreds of factors that contribute to climate change, but it’s stubbornly naive to claim as Santorum does that CO2, as a byproduct of industrial processes, is not the primary actor.  It’s true that climate science and efforts to change energy use in major industries can incur significant costs, but so can bad weather.  The final cost of this year’s weather extremes is still being tallied, but will likely surpass $50 million.  That’s in comparison to a typical year that costs the U.S. $3 or $4 billion.

Making sense of these changing weather patterns will require scientists to analyze large amounts of data, integrating trends over years and millions of square miles.  They need personnel, and concerted support from the Federal government, not half-assed pooh-poohing from a man who could well become President.

The GOP in general sets a bad example by blocking efforts to organize and increase funding for climate research initiatives.  Republicans overwhelmingly deny the general consensus on global warming,  disparaging it instead as a “propaganda attempt” by the Obama administration.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Department of Energy still finance climate research, but many scientists find that there’s not enough to go around.

This research also has valuable practical applications.  Our company, for example, depends on climate data to calculate things like insulation thickness, heating and cooling loads, and gutter sizes.  We’re a green contractor, so energy efficiency is more crucial to our calculations, but every building depends on this information being accurate.  The more efficient our homes, the more money clients save.

Global change affects everyone, not just Americans, so hopefully other governments will have more sense than Congress and fund this crucial research.   Passive houses, for example, have greater momentum in Europe than in the U.S., so more resources are available to passive builders and passive houses are cheaper to build.

And what does all this have to do with Eco Brooklyn, beyond normal climate calculations?  As green contractors, we obviously take the local environment of each home into consideration when designing a plan for energy efficiency.  Compare that with, say, a large non-green building company like Toll Brothers, who may build the same exact house in Texas as in Nebraska.

Now that the environment is hitting higher record temperatures and precipitation levels than ever, Eco Brooklyn is venturing into what we call “Survival Building.”

We’ve started taking examples from extreme climates and integrating them into New York’s brownstones, in order to prepare them against heat waves, snap freezes, and flash floods.  We take inspiration from the “Earthship” and “Passive House” movements, which focus on installing tight insulation and maximizing solar gain to reduce heating and cooling needs.  These homes remain naturally cool in the summer and warm in the winter.  We put up a blog post recently that explains these concepts in detail.

Our our buildings consider rainwater runoff seriously.  We build green roofs, dry wells, rain gardens, and other water harvesting systems to reduce flooding.

We use clay walls in our houses that work like adobe walls in Pueblo architecture.  If they can endure the New Mexico heat, they can handle New York heat waves, with the benefit of retaining heat in winter.  Our passive houses are sealed tight against energy loss, but the envelope also protects against extreme wind or rain.

Eco Brooklyn’s brownstones are green fortresses.

So even if we see the beginnings of a climate apocalypse in 2012, we’ll be ready, and if Santorum gets elected, at least we’ll be insulated against his hot air.

Recycling the abandoned Rockaway Beach Branch

Check out this petition on change.org.  We think their proposal to turn an abandoned tract of land into green space will benefit many New Yorkers.

The Rockaway Beach Branch Committee is petitioning the New York City Council to turn an abandoned 3.5 mile stretch of the old Rockaway Beach Branch railroad into a green space.

Rail service ended 60 years ago, and the city and MTA have indicated that they have no intention of reactivating the rail line due to financial and logistical concerns.  The land has sat there as a dumping ground, a waste of a large unused tract of land in an area populated by hundreds of thousands.

The proposed green space connects nearby communities, recreational areas, and public transportation lines.   The project echoes the recently completed High Line park in Manhattan, which recycled old railroad into an urban park.  In addition to cultural benefits, urban parks have economic perks: turning the unused space into a green gathering place has stimulated real estate development along the 1-mile strip.

The High Line’s southern end in 2005, before renovation.

Completed central portion of the High Line in 2010

In addition to greening New York through construction, Eco Brooklyn also does ecological gardening. We use native plants and local resources like stones, tree trunks and rain water to recreate natural native landscapes. We are a big fan of the Manhattan High Line as a successful example of using an abandoned space to increase community and nature with native plants.

Sign the petition, and help recycle wasted space into a green zone today!

What the land looks like now.  Read and sign the petition here.

Image courtesy of LIRR Rockaway Beach Branch Virtual Tour.

Earthship and Passive House

The two best building systems I know of right now are the Earthship and Passive House methods. Right now Eco Brooklyn is lucky enough to be involved in two jobs that involve both systems, one a NY earthship and the other a NY Passive House.

Earthship building is best for non-urban parts of the world. The footprint of the Earthship makes it prohibitive for city buildings. And as the name implies, Earthships don’t work for buildings more than two stories high. An Earthship relies on the temperature of the earth and thus needs to be nestled in the earth to work.

An Earthship building Eco Brooklyn is currently involved in on the Lower East Side of Manhattan

Passive House building is a good choice for city buildings. Here in NY there are many Passive House jobs going on and I predict that Passive House will become the standard for city, multy level buildings.

The one flaw with Passive House is that even if the whole world built by Passive House standards we would still have wars over resources. This is because Passive House is all about energy efficiency but does not focus on reducing embodied energy in the construction phase. The reasoning is that over the life of the building a Passive House saves so much energy that the initial consumption of high embodied energy – insulation, windows etc – is justified.

I don’t think we have that luxury. That is why our Passive House house in Manhattan is built with almost 100% salvaged materials.

For me salvaged materials is the answer, especially in the city. In the countryside, a place conducive to Earthship building, there is very little salvaged materials available. Lucky for the Earthship, you basically only need vehicle tires as a salvaged material. The second most needed material for an Earthship is, duh, earth, which is plentiful on our planet. After that you need some wood, some cement, some glass and some plumbing and electric materials.

These are things you can salvage but they are not needed in abundance so even buying them new isn’t going to burden the planet hugely.

In the city you have a whole different story. The city is full of very valuable trash. Here in NY I know for a fact that you can build a luxury condo with the trash that is thrown away from the job sites of other, uh, luxury condos. I know because that is what we did for our Manhattan Passive House three family building.

NY may be the elite of valuable trash, but every city is full of good garbage. Right now it is legal to throw that garbage away and it shouldn’t be. The NY DOB should have a team of people inspecting peoples’ dumpsters. If it has old wood, insulation, bricks, cinder block, and windows the contractor should be fined a hefty sum.

Why are contractors paying good money to throw away good materials?

The reason is simple economics. It costs less to throw it away and buy it when you need it than store it until you need it. This is a capitalistic flaw not a moral one.

The solution for cities across the globe is a top down program that subsidizes the extraction and storage of valuable materials instead of throwing them out. It would work very much like current city recycling programs work. When a contractor needs materials they would have the choice to go to a storage area and buy salvaged materials. The material is there, the demand is there. The only thing lacking is a restructuring of how things are done.

Here at Eco Brooklyn, being a NY green contractor, we don’t do that many Earthships despite our deep respect for the system and for Jonah and Michael Reynolds the founders of Earthship building.

But we do Passive Houses. We solve the problem of Passive House high embodied energy by salvaging as much as physically possible. To do this we have a storage area where we put the wood, insulation and other items needed to build NY brownstone.

P1100235.JPG

A Passive House job Eco Brooklyn is building in Manhattan

When the job comes we pull whatever we need from the storage area. The way we make it work financially, since storage is not cheap, is we get the stuff from dumpsters or at half price from other contractros looking to get rid of overstock.

When you factor in labor to collect and clean up the salvaged materials we may not be getting the stuff any cheaper than what you pay at the store, but for us that is good enough. Same price, zero embodied energy, zero mountains clear cut, zero rivers polluted. Sounds like a great deal to us.

That is the problem with current building. They all build on credit. The hidden costs of badly paid workers and ecological destruction across the globe is not factored in when you buy a 2×4 at the hardware store. Our future generations will pay for that dearly.

The goal of Eco Brooklyn is to build with cash, symbolically speaking. When we salvage a 2×4 from a dumpster no tree was cut down for us using it, no worker was badly paid, no ecology across the planet was destroyed. So what if it costs us a little more than a new piece of wood when you factor in labor and storage. Hell, if we factored in all the hidden costs that 2×4 should cost ten times what it does. If our labor to collect and repair the salvaged 2×4 costs the same as a new one we feel we have gotten the deal of a lifetime.

We ar Eco Brooklyn feel that for NY building a combination of 100% salvaged materials and Passive House techniques is by far the best way to build.

Unfortunately most contractors can not build this way because they do no have the infrastructure of salvage that Eco Brooklyn has. We have a team of guys devoted to dumpster diving and a network of contractors who know to call us if they have valuable garbage to give away.

But hopefully this will change as the city gets more hip to the importance of salvaging the valuable NY construction garbage. Contractors don’t feel good about throwing away 100 year old hard wood beams, but what can they do? They are not educated to the importance of saving it and they don’t have the storage.

This is where the city can help. With time hopefully they will.

For now Eco Brooklyn continues in what we call guerrilla construction – dumpster diving and contractor connection – a grass roots solution to a deep seated need.

 

Mayor Bloomberg, Green Mayor but Tone Deaf

I have tolerated Mayor Bloomberg because he has done some good things for New York’s ecology. He isn’t the mayor of Copenhagen, Denmark. Now that is a city worth looking at in terms of ecology and social planning.

But Bloomberg could have been a lot worse. His plan NYC is an acceptable plan, the bare minimum any city should be doing.

But I stopped trusting Bloomberg when he used his power to extend his term. That was a Machiavellian and arrogant move that showed he thinks he knows better than the people who elected him.

So it comes as no surprise that he does not understand the importance of Occupy Wall Street. The movement isn’t a group of freaks living homeless in a park. The movement stands for something profound, it is a voice of the people.

Unfortunately Bloomberg, for all his intelligence, is a man of the 1%.

I mean this not only financially but morally. Bloomberg is one of those people who is always on the side of the law because he makes the law. With a phone call he can get a judge to sign, whether that be extending his term or squelching the voice of Occupy Wall Street.

A leader needs to make tough choices and sometimes minorities will not be happy. But I believe Occupy Wall Street is the first real voice of the majority in a long time. Just like you support things like the arts, community events, sports events and all other things that make a city vibrant, you also support things that give the citizens a voice.

This has a direct impact on the ecology of the city. As a New York green contractor I understand that the largest ecosystem here is the human one. If we are not healthy as a community then there is no chance in hell we will make room for the health of plants and animals.

By taking a stance against the Occupy Wall Street movement Bloomberg is not respecting the natural ecology of the city. Things change, things grow. And right now Occupy Wall Street has grown into being. You don’t cut something like this down. You let it grow. It is an organic development of the city that I believe will make our ecology better.

Bloomberg is full of benevolence as long as things are growing in the direction he wants. But now things are not going his way and he is showing his true colors. Being mayor is not about staying in control. It is about listening to the people and doing their will, even if you don’t personally believe in it.

I’m surprised Bloomberg’s serious conflict of interest has taken this long to surface. How can a media mogul also be the mayor of the media capital of the world. The financial ties between the two posts are irrevocably in conflict.

Occupy Wall Street and Bloomberg’s Dynasty have some serious differences and they are coming to a head. He has to be Mayor first or resign. The ecology of the city depends on it.

Check out this clip. Pure genius.

Mushrooms Can Save Us

As a New York green contractor you learn very quickly that “natural” does not mean “good”, nor does it mean “bad”. Case in point: the mushroom.

Mushrooms are some of the most beneficial human foods available. But you eat the wrong one and you will die.

Not good, not bad. Powerful, yes.

So the next time somebody says something is natural, and therefor good, offer them a bowl of black mold. It’s natural too.

Nobody understands this dualistic power of nature, and more specifically of mushrooms than Paul Stamets.

I just finished his game changing book Mycelium Running, How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World.

In this book Paul lays out in clear detail how Mycelium, commonly known as mushrooms, are the building block upon which all other life grows.

The mushroom we know, say the Portabello, is just the outward form. What is actually more important is the “root” structure of the mushroom, something that resembles a vast carpeted web that can span thousands of miles of space and is constantly communicating within it’s span. As Paul says, “Mycelium is nature’s internet.”

The awe inspiring power of Myceluim is vast and I strongly suggest you read the book.

But in short Mycelium’s power to both give life and destroy is an underutilized element that Paul is only beginning to scratch the surface of.

For example he shows how in a matter of weeks a couple scoops of Mycelium can turn a pile of toxic deisel and oil earth into a verdant little green garden. It quickly becomes clear that Mycelium could decontaminate all sorts of toxic situations, such as radiation, heavy metal, oil spills, and sewage to name a few.

Paul has discovered how to turn the destructive power of Mycelium into powerful tools against insects like termites and carpenter ants, essentially creating natural pest control that is more effective than your most toxic chemical.

For green contractors in NY this is good news. Termites are a big problem. We have had more than a couple jobs where the wood in a brownstone was infested with termites.

Another interesting thing is using mycelium as soil remediation for those toxic New York gardens. How about the Gowanus Canal? Newton Creek? Mycelium would eat that up!

Check out this short clip to see what I mean:

NYC Sprays Toxic Chemicals over City

This NYC government web page lists the times, zip codes and dates that helicopters will spray pesticides over the city. They call it the “Aerial Larviciding Schedule”, and define Aerial Larviciding as:

Dropping natural bacterial granules by helicopter to marshes and other large natural areas to kill mosquito larvae before they grow into adult mosquitoes. Does not take place in the residential areas of NYC.

Unfortunately their definition is misleading and omits important facts. I’m not a chemist but as a New York green contractor I’m very sensitive to green-washing. The main lie is their reference to “natural bacteria”. What the hell is that? Are they dropping yogurt on us? It sounds so wholesome unless you think about the absurd vagueness of the statement and see that is says absolutely nothing except create a false sense of safety.

They are playing on the common misconception that “natural” is good while not giving any real facts.

Lets look at some examples of natural bacteria.

Of course you have yogurt. You have the billions of bacteria growing on your kitchen counter which is harmless enough. But there is just as much harmless as lethal natural bacteria.

Anthrax, that substance that kills people, is a natural bacteria. E coli is another effective natural bacteria if you want a painful death.

Maybe you have heard of biological warfare? That’s when you expose your enemy to natural bacteria.

From Wiki:

Biological warfare (BW) — also known as germ warfare — is the deliberate use of disease-causing biological agents such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, or biological toxins, to kill or incapacitate humans, animals or plants as an act of war. Biological weapons (often termed “bio-weapons” or “bio-agents”) are living organisms or replicating entities (viruses) that reproduce or replicate within their host victims. Entomological (insect) warfare is also considered a type of BW.

You may remember Sadam Hussain. He used natural chemicals to kill a whole bunch of Kurds.

As you can see, natural has no bearing on how harmful something is.

The city says they are dropping pesticides to keep the mosquitoes, and thus West Nile Virus, in check. The only natural bacteria I know of that is harmful to mosquitoes and harmless to most other life forms is called Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (BTI), and it is commonly sold in granule form.

BTI is great because it is harmless to fish and other small animals. You can put it into a pond and remove the mosquito larva without hurting the other animals.

BTI defined:

This naturally occurring bacteria is used as a larvacide in ponds and other areas where mosquitoes are breeding. The larvae die when they feed on it in the water.

BTI is commercially produced by companies that grow it in fish meal or soy flour and sell it in pellets. The pellets are sold at home and garden stores, usually by the brand Mosquito Dunks. The pellets can just be dropped into water, where they will float and slowly release Bti.

Once the larvae eat the bacteria, it develops into several toxic substances in their stomachs, quickly killing them.

BTI is not harmful to animals, birds or even most other insects. It is effective against larvae only and has not effect on adult mosquitoes.

However the city web page states that they are dropping a pesticide called Anvil 10+10, also known as Sumithrin, and this does not contain BTI. Is the city confused because there is absolutely nothing natural about Sumithrin?

Anvil 10 + 10 is comprised of 10% sumithrin and 10% piperonyl butoxide (PBO) as the two “active” ingredients. Sumithrin is the trade name and it’s common chemical name is Phenothrin (d-Phenothrin). Sumithrin is usually the one people refer to as the main active ingredient. PBO is there to boost Sumithrin’s effectiveness. The remaining 80% consists of white mineral oil and polyethylbenzene.

Pesticides such as su­mithrin are not natural and are not made from chrysanthemum flowers as is often claimed. Sumithrin, resmethrin and permethrin belong to a class of pesticides known as pyrethroids, which are synthetic analogs of chrysanthe­mums (Anvil) and dandelions (Scourge). Pyrethroids are not natural! These pesticides are often promoted as “safer” than malathion, an unrelated organophosphate, but this is not true.

Pyrethroids are toxic to the thyroid and immune system, among other concerns. No safe exposure level has been scientifically established for avoiding hormonal and other ad­verse effects, nor has the Occupational Safe­ty and Health Administration (OSHA) set an exposure limit. Source

Sumithrin and its other chemicals are highly toxic to other life forms, especially insects and fish. For us humans it isn’t that great either. Lets start with the standard pill bottle list of symptoms from exposure:

headache, nausea, vomiting, cramps, weak­ness, blurred vision, pin-point pupils, tightness in chest, labored breathing, nervousness, sweating, watering eyes, drooling or frothing of the mouth and nose, muscle spasms, coma, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, runny or stuffy nose, chest pain or difficulty breathing, mental confusion, frequent urination, stomach cramps, diarrhea and seizures, delayed neurological effects including chronic pain, numbness and weakness in the extremities, which may persist for months or years, central nervous system damage (memory, mood, motor coordination, etc), delayed long-term neurotoxic effects, including optic and peripheral neuropathy, as well as rashes, itching or blisters. Source (although I read this elsewhere too)

Those are the “minor” issues with this pesticide. The main concerns are it’s connections to cancer and neurological disorders. Read more on that here. On that page you will learn lots of good facts, one being that one of the pesticide’s ingredient, organophosphate malathion, is­ a derivative of nerve gas, and thus causing concern that this pesticide causes neurological damage to humans, especially developing babies. Autism anyone?

The cancer concern is that this pesticide is part of the Pyrethroids family. Pyrethroids disrupt the endocrine system by mimicking the effects of the female hormone estrogen. This in turn can cause breast cancer in women and lowered sperm counts in men…

Sumithrin also kills bees. The “mysterious” bee die off that is occurring across the globe (aka Colony Collapse Disorder) may not be so mysterious unless you are a large pesticide producing corporation very eager to continue selling your chemicals to farmers who spray the stuff all over bees’ natural habitat. But that is another tangent down the vary large road of capitalism gone terribly wrong.

What is of concern to me and many other beekeepers right now is how to keep our roof top bee hives, located in full exposure to spraying helicopters, from being killed. And if we succeed what solace do we have from the bees ingesting the chemicals and passing it on to the honey we will eat?

My mail box has emails from bee groups with headings like, “URGENT ALERT: PROTECT YOUR HIVES – DOH IS SPRAYING FOR MOSQUITOES WITH SHORT NOTICE”. Great, another thing to worry about.

According to the EPA, an agency not noted for their strict chemical protocol, has a lot to say about one of this pesticide’s main ingredient Sumithrin (aka Phenothrin). One snip from their 54 page review of the chemical:

In the year 2005, flea and tick spot-on products with phenothrin as the active ingredient were cancelled for use on cats and kittens due to incident reports and companion animal studies which indicated apparent neurotoxicity symptoms resulting from treatment, including excessive salivation, tremors, and/or seizures.

The same EPA paper lists the “Target Pests” as:

Phenothrin targets ants, aphids, bed bugs, bees, beetles, billbugs, box elders, borers, cockroaches, cadelles, caterpillars, centipedes, crickets, daubers, earwigs, fleas, flies, gnats, hornets, crawling insects, flying insects, grain insects, lace bugs, leafhoppers, leaf miners, lice, moths, mites, mealy bugs, midges, millipedes, mosquitoes, rust, scab, scales,  scorpions, silverfish, spiders, sow bugs, thrips, ticks, wasps, waterbugs, weevils, worms, and yellow jackets.

If these Target Pests are the “bad” bugs, what about all the other “good” bugs. Do they have a “Get out of jail free card”? Does this pesticide magically discriminate between “good” and “bad” bugs? You bet your ass it doesn’t. And do you know what is ten times worse than “bad” bugs in your garden? No bugs in your garden. That is called an ecological wasteland and is a ripe environment for one plant or animal to grow out of control and kill everything else in its wake.

More from the EPA on how Sumithrin kills:

Mode of Action: Phenothrin works upon physical contact with an insect or after ingestion. Phenothrin is a nerve stimulant which forces the sodium channels of insects to remain open beyond their normal timing thresholds, causing repetitive action inside the nerve channels and eventual paralysis.

So basically apart from respiratory and cancer concerns the main issue with the pesticide being sprayed on us New Yorkers is its neurological damage, part of a list of human related suffering way too long to list here.

The pesticide’s “non-active” ingredient,  polyethylbenzene is also very toxic to people and animals. Again from the tame EPA here is what they say about polyethylbenzene:

toxic to freshwater fish.

very toxic to aquatic plants.

chronic toxicity hazard to invertebrates.

Basically, although the studies did not show much damage to people, the chemical decimates water life. And where are they spraying this chemical? From their definition above we see they spray “on marshes and other large natural areas.”

As some sort of assurance they note that spraying “Does not take place in the residential areas of NYC.” That is small consolation to our water friends. And it is also the height anti green building mentality: the belief that we are not interconnected and thus the toxins will not get to us. As if you can isolate the wind and water of New York so that those chemicals will only stay in the “natural areas.”

These chemicals will not kill us tomorrow. They will add to the toxic soup of human made chemicals we surround ourselves with daily. Along with the “harmless levels” of formaldehyde in our furniture, the “imperceptible” toxins leaching from out plastic drinking cups, the smog in the air and the millions of other stressors in our life, this pesticide will be yet another toxic substance our bodies have to fight against.

This layering of “low level” stressors creates a toxic cocktail called the Synergistic Effect, aka Additive Effect or Antagonistic Effect:

A biologic response to multiple substances where one substance worsens the effect of another substance. The combined effect of the substances acting together is greater than the sum of the effects of the substances acting by themselves. Source

So even though this pesticide may be “perfectly harmless”, it is yet another straw on the camels back that further antagonizes our normally dormant genetic predispositions such as heart attack, addiction, mental illness…etc. And even worse, when combined with all the other toxins we are subjected to what may have been perfectly harmless alone becomes lethal when combined with something else.

Do you know anyone who was happily on anti-depressants and who killed themselves when they added another medication to their diet? I do. Alone the anti-depressants were helpful but when combined with the other drug they became toxic.

Try mixing milk and lemon juice, two delicious drinks that together turn bad. This is the problem with willfully adding another chemical to our already toxic mix, especially if that chemical is highly dubious to the health of humans and obviously tragic to the health of aquatic animals.

What are we trying to avoid? West Nile Virus? How harmful is that really compared to the harm of this pesticide?

And are we really addressing the problem? Is the mosquito abundance not simply the result of us destroying the natural habitats of mosquitos’ predators – fish, birds, dragonflies, bats etc. – and of us chopping up the natural waterways of New York so that normally healthy self cleaning bodies of water are now laying immobile and perfect for larvae?

Spraying chemicals on the New York ecosystem will only further increase mosquitoes since the pesticide destroys the natural aquatic habitats and in its place leaves dead bodies of water free of any mosquito predator. And this doesn’t even touch on the human damage caused by the pesticide.

The solution to our mosquito problem is to increase the health of the New York waters by fostering fish, insects and plants. We also need to increase environments friendly to birds and bats.

Instead of acting like neanderthals the city of New York needs to wake up to the multiple layers of ignorance their spraying efforts reflect and start addressing the real message that the mosquitoes are sending: our ecosystem is out of balance and dying. Baring a mass human exodus of New York, only us humans can bring the ecological balance of New York back.

I expect more from NY. Spraying is a 1950’s solution, back when we thought the modern marvels of chemistry could solve all our problems. It’s like that quote from the Graudate: “Plastics, it’s the future” Well, we all know that isn’t true. Most people now realize that a can of bug spray causes more problems than it solves.

Each time those morons send helicopters out to spray they are making the job harder for green building companies like Eco Brooklyn who are focused on turning NY green.

Green Building Perspective

I was speaking with a green building intern today about how green building has a different set of priorities than say a normal corporation.

In fact from a green building perspective the priorities of a normal corporation are criminal, suicidal and simply bad business in the long run.

I see it as a perspective thing. A person could just be looking out for themselves. Or they could look out for themselves, their family and their friends. Each time their perspective broadens to include a larger set of criteria.

I drew together a quick layering of perspectives here:

Priority

Different groups have different arrangements of priorities. For example in the list above I have family as more important than friends. But a very religious person may put religion above their family. It just depends on each person’s set of priorities.

For the point I’m making lets say the list above is the arrangement of priorities. As you move out in perspective from the middle ring your perspective broadens to include more criteria in your decision making process.

For example, somebody who sees their National identity as the broadest aspect of their perspective will consider all the priorities within the national circle (Cultural, Political, Religious and so on…) to make a decision. But they will ignore the Global, Universal and God in their decision making process since it is outside of what they consider important.

Typically a corporation has a very narrow perspective. They definitely will consider their own share holder profit. If they are a “good”  corporation they will also consider the well being of their workers. But if you look at the graph above you will see a typical corporation does not consider the well being of nations, tribes, religions, and the global planet. That is outside the scope of what they care for when making decisions. And yet they can still be completely legal!

A green builder on the other hand has a much broader perspective that encompasses a much larger set of priorities. Your typical green builder usually looks at things from the Global perspective. We are very planet earth centered. We don’t particularly care about things beyond our own blue orb like other planets or esoteric things. True earthlings, so to speak.

As individuals we may be Universally or Cosmically focused. But for me a green builder is one who trully understands the mantra, “Before enlightenment, fetch water, chop wood. After enlightenment, fetch water, chop wood.”

Our path in life is to work with the earth on a physical level, not to philosophize it intellectually. We are here to improve the ecosphere physically.

And in all our decisions that is the broadest perspective. Yes we look out for self, family, friends, corporations, countries, religions and so on because that is within the scope of Global. But most importantly if it does not also benefit the global planet then it is a no go. Find another way. The planet well being is the point from where we look at everything.

Likewise, what’s going on in the rest of the universe….well it doesn’t really effect our focus.

A green builder has a lot more considerations than your typical corporation. Things are more complex and more things need to be balanced. But we are also much broader in vision. In the long run typical corporations will kill themselves because they can’t see the bigger picture.

Green builders, in their higher wisdom, ultimately have a much easier time of things since they can see more options.