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


Primer edificio verde de Panamá

1 08 2007

Urban Core International BlogFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Josef Newman, Urban Core International, S.A.


July 31, 2007, Panamá City, Panamá: Urban Core International announced today their premiere green building in Panamá, called “Urban Vista,” has been featured in the “lo nuevo” section of the July/August issue of espacios, one of the most highly respected real estate, construction, and design magazines in Panamá. Titled “Primer edificio verde de Panamá” (“First Green Building in Panamá”), the article continues,

“Estará en el barrio de Bella Vista. Se basará en los principios del programa LEED del Consejo de Edificios Verdes de Estados Unidos (United States Green Building Council). Cada apartamento permitirá respirar aire puro y reciclar agua. Contarán con acondicionadores de aire, electrodomésticos de alta eficiencia energética y tecnología inteligente: cableado estructurado para internet de alta velocidad, controles de iluminación y home automation.”

Urban Vista was carefully designed to provide residents with the latest in sustainable building techniques, smarthome technologies, and to promote a higher quality of life. Each apartment stands alone, a privileged home in the sky. The penthouse, the crown of the building, features two floors of pure luxury. With both interior and exterior social areas, a pool deck, fitness center and large gardens, Urban Vista residents will be the first in Panamá to truly experience the benefits of sustainability, privacy, and a healthier way of life.

About Urban Core:

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.


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 the 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 buildings owners and future occupants. Our work is guided by our values, which enable to ensure a projects success. [Web Site] [Blog]

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.


LEED Energy Performance Requirements to Increase

11 07 2007

JULY 11, 2007

Washington, D.C. — The U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) membership has passed a vote to increase the standards that all projects must meet in order to become certified by the organization’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program.

Now, the projects must achieve at least two “Optimize Energy Performance” points, which the organization expects will improve energy performance of all LEED-certified buildings by 14 percent for new construction and seven percent for existing buildings. The change was sparked by USGBC’s desire to create solutions for climate change.

To help projects achieve the new energy reduction requirements, a prescriptive compliance path is currently under development as an alternative to energy modeling.

“Improving energy performance will immediately increase the LEED Green Building Rating System’s impact in reducing building energy related greenhouse gas emissions,” says Tom Hicks vice president of USGBC’s LEED program.

According to the organization, buildings are an important—and often overlooked—solution to climate change. They are responsible for nearly 40 percent of CO2 emissions in the country, due to energy use, water consumption and other operations. CO2, a greenhouse gas that is thought to be a contributor to climate change, has increased 18 percent since 1990 due to the rise in energy consumption, USGBC says.

Healthcare Sector Lags in Green Building Practices

11 07 2007

$28 billion worth of healthcare facilities are under construction in the United States here in 2007, but only six percent of those buildings will go green. In a report that was recently released by McGraw-Hill in cooperation with Turner and USGBC, practitioners cited a variety of factors for this unacceptably low statistic in such an enormous sector of the construction industry. While a majority of the participants in McGraw-Hill’s report “perceive[d] an energy cost savings of more than 10% in green facilities over traditional buildings,” seventy-six percent agreed with the statement that “green building creates an unjustifiable cost premium,” eight-two percent agreed with the statement that “we are not convinced on the ROI from green building,” and fifty-seven percent of respondents stated that “lack of knowledge about green techniques [is] the biggest obstacle to green building.” The American population is aging in an unprecedented fashion, and it’s absolutely imperative that industry professionals work to address- and ultimately dispel- these perceptions about green building in the healthcare context as the industry continues to expand dramatically over the course of the next decade.

Real Estate Industry Quietly Embracing Green Development

22 06 2007

Although much less public than the major media announcements of the world’s largest corporations, GE and Wal-Mart, the real estate industry is quietly transforming by embracing sustainable business practices and green technologies.

In an analysis of the industry, Progressive Investor reports that 41% of the 300 U.S. real estate investment trusts (REITs) are actively pursuing energy efficiency and green building upgrades and another 27% plan to do so.
Yet, we found that most social/environmental investors (SRI) aren’t aware of even one investment option in the area that meets their criteria — one of the few asset classes that remains a hole for SRI portfolios.

“That will change over the next few years,” predicts Rona Fried, Progressive Investor CEO. “Industry leaders are forming a responsible property trade association, creating criteria for certification, integrating green building into the appraisal process and into broker databases,” she says.

Progressive Investor identified the following drivers for the trend:

— Developers and building owners are feeling the crunch of high energy and water costs, which, according to the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA), constitute 28% of operating costs for downtown office properties, and 30.4% for suburban properties. They see the quick payback and cost savings energy efficiency and other green building upgrades offer.

— Building green no longer costs more. Turner Construction’s 2005 Green Building Market Barometer shows it costs a mere 0.8% more for basic LEED certification, easily recouped through lower operating costs.

— Increasingly, clients and tenants show a preference for green buildings, which have been proven to increase productivity, retain employees and lower absenteeism. The combination of reduced operating costs and more satisfied occupants translates into 3.5% higher occupancy rates, 3% higher rents, and a 7.5% increase in building value, says the McGraw-Hill 2006 SmartMarket Report.

— Corporations with sustainable business policies are building highly visible green headquarters including Bank of America, Toyota, Goldman Sachs, Hearst, IBM, JPMorgan Chase and Herman Miller. The Freedom Tower, which replaces the World Trade Center, will be LEED-certified.

— Green building is increasingly being mandated. Nine states and 40+ municipalities have passed legislation mandating LEED-certified buildings.

— Real estate firms see the writing on the wall and are nervous about holding a portfolio of obsolete, inefficient buildings.

“The benefits will make green ubiquitous over the next two years,” says George Caraghiaur, vice president for energy services at Simon Property Group (NYSE: SPG – News), owner of 300 shopping malls. “We’re happy to have caught this trend at the beginning.”

6% of commercial developments are LEED-certified, projected to jump to 10% of the market by 2010. Buildings produce 21% of the world’s CO2 emissions (38% in the US), more than transportation or manufacturing. About 15 million new buildings will be added by 2015. Commercial buildings, the largest polluter, are expected to grow emissions 1.8% a year through 2030.

A recent United Nations study concluded that green buildings can do more to fight global warming than all curbs on greenhouse gases agreed under the Kyoto Protocol, while saving billions of dollars.

Progressive firms are increasingly focused on urban infill buildings rather than suburban greenfields and incorporating advanced energy efficiency measures, as well as recycled building materials, gray water systems, rainwater capture and green roofs, the report says.