Blue Skies Turn Green

10 08 2007

Urban Core International BlogMost of us have been on at least one flight in our lives, boarding a massive jumbo jet that burns thousands of gallons of fuel to soar through the sky. What you might not know, is how quickly those jets, the companies who build them, and the companies who fly them, are changing industry standards to become more and more sustainable.
Remarkable developments from Boeing began with the design of the 787 Dreamliner, a jet whose creation was based onBoeing 787 Dreamliner the principles of efficiency, sustainability, and for sheer economics. The Dreamliner makes use of new technologies in carbon composites, meaning, its body is comprised of almost 50% carbon fiber (the same materials they use to make the Corvette). Why the change in material? It results in using 20% less fuel per mile than a similar plane!

Super Jumbo A380 Airbus is also looking towards efficiency but thinking in different areas. Their newest plane, the Super Jumbo A380 (and yes, it’s big enough to deserve the name “super jumbo”) carries up to 853 passengers. It does this by eliminating class configurations, and making the entire plane economy class. The typical 3-class configuration would yield 555 seats, making quite a difference in the amount of passengers that travel on a gallon of fuel. Eliminating class configurations helps efficiency without even thinking about the way the plane is built, the engine used, or the amount of gas consumed.

Both companies are looking to a new type of engine to aid them in the transition to greener skies. The Open Rotor engine isgebe.jpg a tail-mounted engine that combines the speed of a normal jet engine with the efficiency of a turbo propeller engine. This does make the flight a little bit slower, but it makes it a lot more efficient. The propellers on these new engines are not housed inside casing, which is why they must be mounted on the tail. Interestingly enough, this produces an added side effect of making the plane more aerodynamic. It turns out that wing-mounted engines interfere with lift surfaces on the plane, meaning you need more energy and hence more fuel to get the plane off the ground. Engineers look to combat this by blending the wings and the body of a plane, a design first adopted by the military in creating the B-52 bomber, which can travel remarkable distances without refueling because of the greater amount of lift surfaces. Having the tail-mounted engines helps increase these lift surfaces, meaning commercial planes will also be able to go further without refueling.

What about the engine makers themselves? A little research shows that GE’s eco-imagination is constantly at work. The new GE90-115B engines ecomagination.jpgare remarkably efficient, so much so that a fleet of 16 twin engine aircrafts powered by these new engines emits 141,000 fewer tons of greenhouse gases than the traditional four engine configuration. Those amount of greenhouse gases equals the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by 35,000 acres of forest. To try visualizing just how large of an impact that is, it’s about twice the size of Manhattan Island!

As jet makers lean towards efficiency, the airlines themselves are hopping on board. American Airlines enacted an environmental fuel savingAA Logo program to shut off one engine when the plane is taxiing to an airport gate, or when removing heavy food service galleys from the plane. One engine may not sound like much, but when spread across the fleet of a company as large as AA, it leads to anywhere between 60 – 70 million gallons of fuel a year saved!

Richard BransonRichard Branson of Virgin Atlantic Airlines is committed to sustainability in the air and on the ground. Not only was Virgin among the first to purchase the new Boeing Dreamliner, but they also power all of their key office sites through renewable energy.

It’s not only industry giants hopping on board. A smaller company (though by no means small) called EasyJet is reducing theirEcoJet carbon emissions in the air and on the ground as well. While Virgin purchases alternative energy credits, EasyJet is buying carbon credits through UN certified providers to offset the emissions they create from the operations of their planes. In fact, the amount of carbon credits purchased is directly related to the number of flights, distance traveled, and fuel burned by the company. They are also in the process of designing the EcoJet, based on the principles of the Boeing Dreamliner, which they believe will cut carbon dioxide emissions a whopping 50% by the year 2015. This is truly remarkable.

Truly, some innovative ideas and new technologies are coming to light in the airline industry. From the fiberglass body of the Boeing Dreamliner to the efforts of Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Atlantic’s commitment to alternative energy, the skies are forever changing, and for the better. If there’s one thing that’s clear, its that eco-imagination is constantly hard at work!

Co-Authors: Josef Newman + Aaron Newman, Urban Core International 


Transportation Anyone?

7 08 2007

Urban Core International BlogMy brother and I have been talking a lot lately about the changes and progression of the auto industry and the release of all these new awesome electric or hybrid vehicles being produced. And, of course, which one we would get and when…So, we thought we’d spend this week talking about transportation and some of the different alternatives out there. Please feel free to chime in at any point, let us know what you think and, of course share your great ideas.

As alternative energy becomes more and more important, we see its effects all over the world. More and more homes are producing energy on site, and more utility companies supplementing traditional power with solar and wind installations. It seems that now we are seeing alternative energy leap into a new industry – automobiles. Hybrids cars such as the prominent Toyota Prius come to most peoples mind, but there is much more available today than there was a few years ago.

Hybrids are certainly a great step in the right direction, like the new “HyS” scooter from Piaggio, makers of the Vespa scooter, whose hybrid“HyS” scooter from Piaggio engine gives it up to one hundred and seventy miles per gallon. The scooter itself recharges on a standard 220v outlet, and can travel up to twelve miles on electricity alone! What truly makes this bike so unique is the control the driver has over the engine; a unique switch allows the driver to choose to optimize mileage, performance, battery charge, or any combination.

Other interesting developments in the scooter world are coming from a company called eGO Vehicles, makers of entirely electric scooters whose use is devoted primarily to short distance errand running and local commuting. EGO VehiclesThese entirely electric scooters have a range of up to 25 miles with cargo room built into the back, allowing people to easily run local errands and run around town without burning gas. This may not serve for a road trip, but it certainly cuts down local emissions rates, keeping your air cleaner at home.

What about long term travel? Those who need more than short range? New developments in cars and trucks by a company called ZAP will prove to be the future. ZAP is a company that designs a wide array of hybrid and fully electric vehicles, from cars and pickup trucks to ATV’s and dirt bikes. Of the many products they provide, all of which are not only efficient but also incredibly stylish, one has the potential to revolutionize its industry. ZAP collaborated with Lotus engineering, and the results wereZAAP-X phenomenal; the ZAP–X crossover electric car. If its range you want then its range you get, up to 350 miles on a single charge. Is speed more your speed? You’ll find it with a potential 644 horsepower engine propelling you 155 m.p.h! An electric car with that much power, must take quite some time to recharge, right? Wrong again. The ZAP–X recharges fully in as little as ten minutes, and best of all, it does so from any standard outlet. As if that weren’t enough to put your name on the preorder list, perhaps some of the extra features will, including touch screen controls on a windows XP platform, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and an IPOD ready sound system. Still not impressed? Maybe the keyless biometric entry and ignition and the photovoltaic glass is more your style. Photovoltaic glass? Yes, this time, they thought of everything. Who would have thought that your windows would be powering your car while you drive?

Park & PowerWith such advancements in the field, the only question left to ask is why it’s not catching on quicker. The answer is simple – the infrastructure. To charge electric cars, you need a charging station. An interesting solution we have seen popping up in England called “Park and Power” seems very promising. These small charging stations are about the size of a parking meter. Customers can purchase a 6 or twelve-month license, which gives them access to a magnetic fob. This is used to activate the park and power machines when they connect to their electric vehicles. As these become more and more popular and are installed at more locations, electric vehicles will become easier to own. Can this truly be the next step in the automotive industry? We think so.

Co- Authors: Josef Newman + Aaron Newman, Urban Core International, S.A.

Living green, by design

4 08 2007

Urban Core International BlogOne home is efficient and thrifty. The other is stylish and opulent.

DONNA SIDER painstakingly renovated her 1,000-square-foot Pasadena home to be more energy-efficient as a way to save money and help the environment at the same time.

Jeffrey Eyster built an eco-friendly, 2,200-square-foot dream house in the hills above Laurel Canyon, in tune with his appreciation of fine architecture, superior materials and healthful living.

Eyster’s home demonstrates that luxury and cutting-edge design can be integral to environmental construction.

Sider’s is proof that going green doesn’t require a lot of gold. Their efforts can serve as examples to homeowners who want to fight global warming or trim their household expenses, or both. And the payoffs in both areas are substantial, environmental leaders say.

“Forty percent of America’s carbon emissions comes from buildings — almost half — and utility bills are a major factor in household bankruptcy,” said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. “You can reduce your utility bill by 50% or 60% relatively easily. That’s one-fifth of the total carbon emissions today. It’s a huge part of what we have to do.”

Making those eco-friendly changes at home has become simpler and more affordable.

“Five years ago, the environmentally healthier or higher-performing building materials and products were harder to find. It was still a niche market, and they were more expensive,” said Charles Lockwood, a Santa Monica-based environmental real estate consultant. “Now, you see Home Depot offering eco-options.

“This brings it down to everyday Americans. You don’t have to go to a special place to find it. It’s right there and at a good price.”

Home builders and buyers also have a better way of identifying environmentally friendly homes, thanks to the U.S. Green Building Council’s seal of approval.

The group’s residential Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System will be formally launched this fall after a two-year pilot program. It was designed to encourage builders to keep the costs of green homes similar to those of traditional new houses, the council said.

To get the group’s most basic certification, a builder would have to spend about 3% more, or $10,000 on a $300,000 home, the national average price for a new house. Amortized over a 30-year mortgage, that extra $70 a month is easily made up in energy savings, said Jay Hall, acting director of the homes program.

“If they cost the same on a monthly basis, which one would you rather have?” Hall asked.

Sider already has answered that one. “I wanted to be a part of doing what I could in my own home to make these changes,” she said.

Sider’s long road to transforming her two-bedroom home began shortly after she bought it in 1999. With a limited budget, the 49-year-old registered nurse saved up and attacked her projects as she could afford them, doing much of the work herself and enlisting the aid of friends and family.

When she began her energy-saving projects, she paid about $200 every two months for water and power. When she finished, this summer, her bill had dropped to about $60.

Eyster, a 36-year-old architect, became a green believer when he was evaluating the costs of building a home on a 5,700-square-foot lot just off Laurel Canyon Boulevard near the Mount Olympus neighborhood. His wife, real estate agent Alla Furman, bought the lot five years ago for $30,000.

Eyster opted to save money by constructing beams from small pieces of Douglas fir pasted together with environmentally friendly glue. The engineered wood was easily carried up the steep hill, unlike large, old-growth timber, which would have required a crane.

“It didn’t start from a philosophical position,” Eyster said. “It just made sense.”

His bright and airy but compact house is all about making sense. The tiny 6-by-3-foot downstairs powder room with low-flow electric toilet maximizes space and water efficiency; LED track lamps throughout the house will last 40,000 hours, as opposed to old-style 2,000-to-5,000-hour bulbs.

By the time the couple and their two children moved in two months ago, the house’s cost had swelled to about $1.2 million, financed with a $600,000 construction loan and round after round of refinancing to free up cash for the project.

“I feel better knowing that paying for building and installing green products leads to a healthier lifestyle for my family, the greater community and the environment,” Eyster said.

Sider began her eco-renovation with the front yard. A landscape architect friend charged her a couple of hundred dollars to draw a plan that included adding more drought-tolerant plants and putting in trees to better shade the yard and the house.

Later, a landscaper added sod and sprinklers for a total cost of about $2,500

“Even that happened in stages, for affordability,” she said.

With a relatively small, hilly lot, Eyster designed a house that would bring the outdoors in. Twenty-foot-wide accordion glass doors on the north side roll away to give the living room a treehouse feel; a wall of windows on the west side provides a cross-breeze and helps to fill the house with sunlight.

Shades automatically rise and fall along with the sun’s placement in the sky to maximize sunlight and minimize heat, part of a $15,000 automation system.

The house’s “brain” — Eyster’s favorite eco-feature — also controls the electric lighting and the four-zone heat and air-conditioning scheme so that each is used only when needed.

“It can take some really complex things like exhaust fans, air conditioning and solar shades and juggle all of it when you’re not home,” he said, “so that the energy savings happen automatically.”

Sider’s version of power-saving lighting and windows consisted of switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs and double-pane windows — two of the cheapest and easiest green changes.

Fluorescent bulbs use up to 75% less energy, last about 12 times longer, stay cooler and, thanks to technical improvements in recent years, offer the same quality of light as incandescent bulbs.

Retail powerhouse Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which has thrown its weight behind the push for compact fluorescent light bulbs, says they save an average of $35 in energy over the long term. That means changing 30 bulbs in your house will save more than $1,000.

For Sider, replacing eight louvered windows in 2002 with energy-efficient dual-pane insulated glass cost $2,700, not including rebates from Pasadena Water & Power totaling about $200.

Sider made other changes that were equally at home in Eyster’s dream house.

She used the same hot-water technology as Eyster even before he did, adding a tankless heater in 2003 that cost about $500 at Home Depot. The device heats water as needed, rather than making it hot only to store it in a giant tank. No city rebate there, but Sider thought it was worth it anyway.

“Europe has had this for years,” she said. “The price got within range, and it was doable.”

Eyster’s tankless heater has yet to run out of steam, he said, despite frequent heavy use, such as two showers and a washing machine running simultaneously.

Not all of his cool enviro-features worked out quite so well, he acknowledged.

The drip-irrigation system on his hillside, designed to slowly leak water underground to feed the plants rather than spraying it in the air, has blown through the pipe joints more than 10 times, he said, most likely as a result of high water pressure.

“It’s been the biggest headache. The point is to save water, and yet when they explode, they spray water everywhere,” he said. “I probably just need to get a better regulator.”

Sider has no regrets about her environmental upgrades, which included a “dual flush” toilet, added in 2005. That new generation of commode lets users select one flush level for solid waste and another for liquids — an acknowledgment that some flushes require more water than others.

That change cost Sider about $320 and earned $80 from the city utility. She also added a new refrigerator for $650 and got a rebate of $150 from Pasadena because of the appliance’s Energy Star rating.

Replacing appliances as needed with those granted the Energy Star label by federal regulators is a simple step with dramatic potential upside. A home fully equipped with Energy Star products uses about 30% less energy than a home with standard appliances, the program’s administrators say.

Both homeowners also employed cotton-fiber insulation, Sider in her attic and Eyster through his entire house, including underneath the structure and between rooms.

Because the material doesn’t contain fiberglass, installation doesn’t require protective gloves, a respirator or goggles. So Sider and a friend were able to fit the insulation among her attic’s beams themselves. That cost her $900 but earned a $130 rebate from Pasadena.

Eyster spent about $5,000 on his material, as opposed to the roughly $2,000 it would have cost for traditional fiberglass insulation, he said.

But because he didn’t need special protective gear or skills, installation was much less expensive, bringing the total cost roughly in line with what he would have paid to go the standard route, he said.

In at least one area — solar power — the budget-minded Sider is ahead of Eyster.

For most people, the costs of photovoltaic panels are prohibitive, even with generous utility rebates and federal tax credits, said Hall of the Green Building Council.

“There’s a huge fad right now for photovoltaic systems, so any luxury home that’s considered green almost must have PV on it,” Hall said. “The irony is that PV is probably the least cost-effective thing you can do.”

Retrofitting a house to run entirely on energy from solar panels isn’t cheap, about $40,000 for a 2,000-square-foot property, Hall said.

Eyster designed his roof to accommodate solar panels but is waiting to install them until the price comes down.

But for Sider’s under-1,000-square-foot house, the investment in solar was big, but so was the payoff, she said.

Sider’s 12 low-profile PV panels take up about one-sixth of her roof. Sider said she paid for only half of the $12,500 system because she received a $4,400 city rebate and a $2,000 federal tax credit.

Now, she said, she uses only about half of the energy the system generates, even after adding a forced-air heating and cooling system to replace an aging, inefficient furnace.

“I have the meter on my back porch, and it’s fun to see how much I can save,” she said. “I like to see how little I can use.”

That’s the perfect attitude, said Lockwood, the Santa Monica consultant.

“It is a real disservice to give average Americans the idea that the only way to build an environmental house is in some kind of eco-chic,unattainable, unaffordable way,” he said. “That’s just not true.”

By Abigail Goldman, LA Times Staff Writer

Recommended Reading To Promote “Green” Education

25 07 2007

Urban Core International BlogPanama City, Panama; July 25th, 2007:

Urban Core International, SA, announced today it has added a “Recommended Reading” section to the Urban Core International blog. The blog is located at <> . This new section highlights important books and texts Urban Core feels will enhance reader’s understanding and education of green practices today. Books include The Lazy Environmentalist by Josh Dorfman, Live Earth’s Global Warming Surviving Handbook, and The SmartCode V8.0, a guide to urban development and planning by Duany Plater-Zyberk and Company. New books and texts will be updated consistently. Urban Core hopes that by keeping readers informed of up-to-date information, they will be better consumers and live and work greener lives.

Urban Core International, S.A. is focused on the development of boutique residential and commercial property in and around Urban Cores. Our mission is two fold; to develop sustainable, quality projects with a focus on strength through design and collaboration, and to provide project owners whom we represent with unparalleled project management services through hard work, collaboration, discipline and attention to detail.

Real Estate Execs Land ‘Responsible Property Investing’ Strategy

25 07 2007

Real Estate Execs Land ‘Responsible Property Investing’ Strategy

WASHINGTON, July 5, 2007 — More than 80 percent of real estate executives said their organizations are committed to going beyond the minimum legal requirements to address social or environmental issues according to a recent survey, and 90 percent of respondents said pursuing responsible property investing (RPI) strategies are an increasingly important business strategy.

The survey, conducted by the Urban Land Institute, shows that the real estate industry, including investing companies and developers, is increasingly adopting a “triple bottom line” business approach that measures success in terms of economic, social and environmental value.

RPI is an outgrowth of socially responsible investing that started several years ago and has grown into a broad movement encompassing far more than the financing and development of buildings that meet energy efficiency standards, according to Stephen Blank, a research at ULI. “This goes way beyond buying ‘green,'” Blank said. “RPI is about making a conscious decision to conduct all business operations in a way that contributes to the long-term well-being of the community and environment.”

Blank said the survey reveals just how many in the real estate industry have concluded that they can “do well by doing good” in terms of property investment choices, and that RPI is bringing about a definite shift in attitudes.

A company applying RPI practices might be willing to invest in existing structures and retrofit them to cut energy use and reduce their environmental footprint; Blank said that a firm working along those lines would also be apt to encourage environmentally responsible and community minded behavior by employees and tenants.

In a report documenting the survey results, University of Arizona professor Gary Pivo writes, “(RPI) encompasses a variety of efforts to contribute to ecological integrity, community development, or human fulfillment in the course of profitable real estate investing. A sustainable and responsible investor seeks to be an employer of choice, to improve neighborhoods, to conserve natural resources or to promote a more just society.”

The survey responses show that conservation is the most widespread RPI management strategy now being implemented.. Fifty-seven percent of the participants said they are promoting energy conservation, water conservation or recycling in properties they own or manage; 47 percent said they are engaging stakeholders with some connection to the properties, such neighborhood organizations, labor unions or environmental groups. Forty-four percent include references to community, human resource or environmental issues in their values or mission statement; and 43 percent pay attention to social or environmental issues in their strategic planning.

The survey also found that:

  • 63 percent said they have invested in urban infill or redeveloped properties and 16 percent said they are considering such investments;
  • 53 percent have invested in transit-oriented development, and 15 percent plan to do so;
  • 36 percent have invested in green buildings and 31 percent plan to;
  • 33 percent have invested and 16 more percent are considering investing in brownfields;
  • More than 35 percent of the respondents said they are aware that RPI practices are beneficial in terms of increased efficiency and lower costs for overall business operations;
  • More than 30 percent view RPI as providing a potential competitive advantage and are pursuing these practices primarily as a wise business strategy.

According to the survey, some of the biggest motivators behind the growth of RPI are increased potential ROI for enhancing social and environmental well-being, gaining a business advantage over competitors, and fulfillment of a moral obligation.

The survey was conducted between November 2006 and January 2007 by Pivo. It was sent to nearly 1,500 chief executive or real estate investment officers of U.S. pension funds with real estate holdings, real estate investment trusts (REITs), real estate operating companies (REOCs), fund managers and development companies.

The full survey is available from the Urban Land Institute [PDF].


Major Investors Take On Responsible Investment Strategies

25 07 2007

GENEVA, July 10, 2007 — A survey of the world’s biggest investors conducted by U.N. agencies has found that environmental, social and governance issues are now a key feature of investment policies and engagement strategies in global finance.

The Principles for Responsible Investment’s 2007 progress report is the first-ever global study to capture in great detail the ways that investors are integrating ESG issues within investment decision making practices. It found that 88 percent of investment managers who have signed the Principles for Responsible Investment are conducting at least some shareholder engagement on ESG issues, while 82 percent of asset owners are doing so.

“These findings demonstrate that a sea change in global investing is underway,” said James Gifford, Executive Director of the PRI Initiative, which includes more than 200 institutional investors representing more than $9 trillion in assets. “More and more mainstream investors understand that ESG issues can be material to long-term results and therefore must be factored into investment processes.” He added, “This report is ground-breaking. Never before have the responsible investment practices of institutional asset owners and managers been evaluated in such a systematic way.”

The PRI, which were created as a joint effort of the United Nations Environment Program’s Finance Initiative and the U.N.’s Global Compact, are a set of best practice, voluntary guidelines for institutional investors, helping them integrate ESG principles into daily operations.

PRI Chair Donald MacDonald said, “While signatories are making significant progress in implementing the Principles, we recognize that there is still a lot to be done. What is especially pleasing is that signatories are committed to increasing their responsible investment activities considerably during 2007. This year’s assessment is the beginning of an ongoing annual process that will be improved over time”.

Among the report’s other findings are:

  • 67 percent of asset owners and 83 percent of investment managers have adopted a formal policy on responsible investment – typically this is integrated within core investment policy statements. A further 15 percent of asset owners and 5 percent of investment managers plan to develop a policy in 2007.
  • Signatories have performed best in implementing Principle 2 (active ownership), followed by Principle 1 (integration of ESG issues into investment processes). Implementation of the other Principles is not as progressed.
  • 80 percent of asset owners report that they have communicated responsible investment issues and the PRI to their beneficiaries.
  • More than half of asset owner signatories made some reference to PRI-related requirements in requests for proposals, with another 23 percent planning to add PRI-related requirements in 2007. 18 percent of asset owner signatories are planning to ask their service providers to sign the PRI in 2007.


Urban Core International Launches Redesigned Website

12 07 2007


July 12, 2007; Panamá City, Panamá: Urban Core International, SA, announced today the launch of the redesigned Urban Core International website, located at Based in Panamá City, Panamá, and with projects throughout Florida, Urban Core International’s site brings together all of the company’s accomplishments and information in a sleek, streamlined environment. The site contains a “Featured Projects” section, News and Press, interactive blog, and podcast as well as a thorough library and resource guide. A Spanish website is also in development as well.

Urban Core is a premier developer of boutique residential buildings and communities, and continues to be a leader in sustainable development. Among Urban Core’s current featured projects include Urban Vista , Panamá City’s first LEED-certified residential building. Located in the beautiful Bella Vista neighborhood, Urban Vista features smarthome technology, modern architecture, and luxurious, eco-conscious features as a zen garden deck, green roof, greywater recycling and recycled materials throughout. This is all contained within stunning 360 degree views of Panamá City, the Amador Causeway and lush surrounding countryside.

At Urban Core, we believe that a building is more than simply the sum of its parts. It is a well-founded idea, one that has been reviewed from all angles, by all disciplines involved in a project. It is a home, and a part of a larger community that it impacts. Our goal is to make sure our buildings are not only successful projects, but are constructed in a manner that contributes to the community, while meeting the needs of the building’s owners and future occupants. Our work is guided by our values, which enable us to ensure a project’s success.