The Green Race is on…

•September 30, 2009 • Leave a Comment

This past weekend, Thomas L. Friedman’s op-ed column in the New York Times was titled “The New Sputnik”.   While some will remember the actual 1957 launch of Sputnik 1, the first “satellite” to orbit earth, I immediately recall one of my favorite movie scenes of all time.  In “So I Married an Axe Murderer”, one of Mike Meyers’ characters, Stuart MacKenzie, describes his son’s enormous head: “I’m not kidding, that boy’s head is like Sputnik – spherical, but quite pointy in parts.”  Click the video link below to see why it is so completely irrelevant to Friedman’s column, yet great for a good laugh.

Now back to the serious stuff…

Friedman’s column predicts that current events and developments in China will later be described as the beginning of a Green Revolution.  The Russian launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957 stunned the US, and jumpstarted what was later called the Space Race, an informal competition between the US and Russia to explore outer space.  Friedman recognizes China’s current push to quickly develop enormous clean energy projects, lead the production of electric cars, and become the largest supplier of low-cost solar and wind power generation technologies as the genesis of a new international competition.  This new competition will push other developed (or developing) countries to explore cleaner ways to produce energy, food, and consumer products in order to stay competitive and relevant.  Since Friedman is a 3-time Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, and I can barely recall movie quotes, I will let you read the article for yourself….

“The New Sputnik” by Thomas L. Friedman

When the historians look back at this moment in time and deem it the beginning of the “Green Race”, you can be sure that I’ll take credit for the oh-so-inventive title.


Calling all Decathletes…

•September 28, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Seriously, how many decathletes really follow this blog?  I would guess they are far too busy to care what we have to say.  If you’re not a decathlete, don’t fret.  This is really for you…


It’s not time for the Olympics yet, but it is almost time for the 2009 Solar Decathlon to take place on the National Mall in D.C.  Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, this will be the fourth event in which universities from all over the US, as well as a few from abroad, compete against one another to see who has developed the most superb example of sustainable architecture.  The field of 20 teams this year consists of a variety of public and private universities, and even a few that have joined forces with others to form what I’m calling “superteams” – Team Alberta, Team Boston, Team California, Team Germany, Team Missouri, Team Ontario/BC, and Team Spain.  Unfortunately, you may notice the absence of a Team Arizona.  Considering the plethora of shiny hot rays we have here, Arizona should be perennial competitor in this sun-centric event.

Don’t despair.  For the first time ever, Arizona will be represented in the competition.  Led by one of my former professors, Larry Medlin, the University of Arizona has developed what they call the Solar Energy Efficient Dwelling or SEED[pod].  This interesting dwelling incorporates the obvious and expected solar energy and solar hot water heating elements, but also has a few very unique tricks up its sleeves that help to control light, ventilation, and insulation.  If you know what a trombe wall is, I challenge you to show me one that is as unique as the one pictured below.  Made from recycled plastic, the system provides thermal storage, controls the intensity of light, and still allows for ventilation.  I can’t wait to see this in action.


Quite possibly one of the most unique features of the house, however, just happens to be the adjacent greenhouse.  You might be mumbling to yourself “What’s so innovative about a greenhouse?. I’ve been growing food in mine for years”.  That may be true, but does your greenhouse filter your air and water, provide increased O2 for your home, regulate your humidity, or provide thermal storage for heating and cooling your house?  I didn’t think so.  While past decathlon entrants have incorporated graywater systems, thermal storage systems and gardens, the SEED[pod]’s greenhouse is very unique.  Unfortunately, a unique greenhouse alone doesn’t automatically guarantee them the grand prize.  As the name of the event suggestions, the entrants will be judged in 10 categories – Architecture, Market Viability, Engineering, Lighting Design, Communications, Comfort Zone, Hot Water, Appliances, Home Entertainment, and Net Metering.  It will take innovation and performance in all of these categories before someone walks out with a crown.


The SEED[pod] left Tucson this weekend to make it’s way to D.C. in time for setup and judging, which will take place October 8th-16th.  After a couple weeks of public viewing, the house will then be disassembled and trucked back to Phoenix, where it will be on display at the enormous Greenbuild event being held downtown November 11th-13th.  I will certainly enjoy bragging about my alma mater if they take home the gold, but I am probably more excited just to finally see an Arizona entrant in the competition.  They do represent our great State, so I encourage all of you to lend your support and encouragement.  If you’re at your desk right now, I would like you to yell “Go Cats!” as loud as you can.  One of two things will likely happen.  You will either be jumped by a gaggle of Sun Devil alumni scrambling over cubicle walls, or you will be carted off to the local psych ward.  Either way, you will feel good knowing that you’re doing your part to support your local team, your local University, and the evolution of sustainable design.

To learn more about the Solar Decathlon, go to

To follow UA’s Solar Decathlon Team, go to

Van Jones

•September 14, 2009 • Leave a Comment

So, what do you say about the Van Jones hubbub without starting a political firefight? I can say I don’t feel I know enough about him. I missed his speaking presentation at Greenbuild last year in Boston but I have heard that he is a very dynamic and inspirational speaker, focused on positive change. Van JonesI only watch Glenn Beck (or Keith Oberman, for that matter) when I am in an airport somewhere waiting for a flight and I try to make sure there is no food in my stomach at the time, so I don’t know much about his campaign to oust Jones or about the campaign conducted by opposing groups to have advertisers boycott Beck’s show for calling President Obama a racist. I DID see a bit of Beck’s teary “what has so divided us?” plea as he ripped into all politicians as evil and I wondered what planet I was on. As many of our mothers used to say “If you don’t have anything good to say….” Anyway, I digress….

What caught my attention was when NBC Nightly News showed an insert shot highlighting Van Jones name, apparently from a list of people who had signed a petition insinuating or claiming that the U.S. Government had known in advance the 9/11 attack plot and let it happen. Jones apparently has said he was just asked to sign some petition at a crowded event and didn’t read it. The detail that struck me was the name “Paul Hawken” a few lines above Van Jones’ name. Paul Hawken is an intellectual and inspirational leader to many in the green building movement and I find it strange that he would put his name to such a document, if it is what NBC portrayed it as. Did he also not know what he was signing? Did Van Jones just sign because he saw Paul Hawken’s name and figured it must be something legitimate? 

I’m not immune to conspiracy theory thinking. I believe it is a good sign of a curious mind. Maybe it’s why my Tivo is currently filled with NCIS episodes. However, whenever I start to consider any conspiracy theory seriously, I’m reminded of two other possibilities:

1) Sometimes you can just piss off too many people. Former Arizona Governor Evan Mecham did this. I watched him get impeached, recalled and grand juried at the same time. No conspiracy to get rid of him was needed because he managed to anger just about everyone, including the state’s university students that I represented. It’s much easier to tear things down than build up something positive. He only understood how to tear things down and people saw that and individually did what they could to stop it. I wish that could serve as a lesson for all the negative television pundits on both sides.

2) Never underestimate the power of negligence and incompetence to create disastrous consequences. See, for example, the recent SEC review of the Madoff fiasco. And that is just the poster child for all the Wall Street/Washington fiascos of the last few years. Conspiracy actually takes quite a bit of smarts, planning and logistics. Negligence and incompetence don’t take much effort. Just think about how much effort it takes to get to know what a political candidate really stands for before voting for them. And how much effort it takes to keep track of whether they are making good decisions. But think about the consequences of neglecting to do this. It would be great if we could support a media infrastructure with our eyeballs and/or our wallets that legitimately did some of this hard work for us. But then again, the media is just a giant corporate conspiracy to dumb down the electorate so that we can be mind-controlled by the Military Industrial Complex, right?

Canalscape Exhibit Opens in November

•September 14, 2009 • Leave a Comment

The Canalscape design competition is complete and the results will be on display in November at ASU (and at Greenbuild?):

As I was riding my bike past a canal on Sunday and saw people parking cars in adjacent neighborhoods so that they could jog in the pre-blistering early morning air, I was reminded again how nice and subversive (to the auto-dominated infrastructure) it would be to have a well-developed cultural and transportation sub-system based on the canals and the Greenbelt and other dedicated bicycle and pedestrian paths. What if the canal shores were shaded by solar canopies that generated power while keeping the bike and running paths underneath cool for a longer season? What if there were cafes and cultural activities that you could only get to reasonably by way of this transportation sub-system because there was limited parking around them? What if it was just culturally expected that you arrive by foot or bike? We have a light rail zoning overlay. Why not one for the canals?

I haven’t seen the exhibit yet but I have high expectations for the possibilities.

Sweltering heat doesn’t deter Arizona School from being Cool.

•August 25, 2009 • 1 Comment

As a former Wildcat, it is with great dismay and humility that I must pay homage to the Sun Devils.  The Sierra Club unveiled their Third Annual Cool Schools list this month.  Dubbed “A Comprehensive Guide to the Most Eco-Enlightened U.S. Universities”, the list is meant to draw attention to universities across the country who have scored well in the environmental categories.

GIOS Building

Sitting within Metrosprawlitan Phoenix, and with an enrollment list of 67,000+ students, it’s hard to imagine that the largest university in the country can really be green.  However, the shear density of the campus, the organic waste composting practice , the recycled content supply purchasing practice, the relatively new School of Sustainability, and the School’s dedication to building LEED accredited buildings have helped ASU make Sierra Club’s Cool Schools list for all three years of its existence.   Landing an Honorable Mention in 2007, ASU skyrocketed to 6th place in 2008, and 13th place this year.  Naturally, I was excited to see where UofA fell.  Tucson is generally seen as being a much greener city than Phoenix, so something must have rubbed off on the University – right?  Unfortunately, no.  While I view UofA as a “cool” school, the Sierra Club does not.  My disappointment pressed me to investigate Northern Arizona University’s place in all of this.  We all know the Lumberjacks should have really been called the Treehuggers, so surely they reside somewhere near the top of the Cool Schools list.  Nope.  NAU did manage an Honorable Mention in 2007, but has had a dramatic fall over the last couple years – not making the list of 135 schools named this year.

Wow! I really do have to bow to ASU’s achievement.  We should all take a minute to take a look at some of their practices (  While you’re at it, let’s do everything we can to encourage our other State schools to step it up a notch or five.  If the Sun Devils can do it, surely the Wildcats and Treehuggers can practice what they preach and give ASU a run for it’s money.  My wife, a Sun Devil alum herself, has already been talking Green trash….  With Lute Olson out of the picture now, I’m not sure I have much of a leg to stand on in this in-state rivalry.  So, with very little spirit, I must close with an obligatory “Go Cats!”.

Bikin’ In Tempe, Bikin’ in TempE!

•August 13, 2009 • Leave a Comment

A breath of fresh eco-friendly air will be blowing through Tempe starting August 24th: The Bicycle Cellar is coming!

The Bicycle Cellar from on Vimeo.

Yes, we knew that the Tempe Transportation Center was going to be special and spark new ideas with a conscious nod toward sustainability, but it is exciting to see the ideas actually happening! Having a bike storage center/showers/lockers/retail/repair operation at the TTC has been a dream of Tempe Transportation’s Bonnie Richardson for years during design and construction. After hours access to your secured bike for when you get back on the light rail from a night out on the town?! That rocks!!

With the lightrail connected to buses and now this connectivity to cycling and then a future link to a tram around Sky Harbor, we’re seeing the beginnings of a new transportation system not crushingly dependent on fossil fuel automobiles. But wait! Will the Chevy Volt really get 230+ mpg? What’s happening here???

Next thing you know, we’ll be seeing more permeable concrete (helping with water infiltration and heat island), more rubberized pavement, streets in lighter colors (to reflect more of the heat rather than adsorb it), and walkable community planning!! We see light way off at the end of the tunnel – and it’s the headlight of a cyclist heading home from The Bicycle Cellar.

ERIC Sprints Into Action

•July 2, 2009 • Leave a Comment

You’d never know from the looks of it yesterday that ERIC (the Education Recycling Information Center) was on the fast track. The mascot is a cute turtle, after all. This mobile educational unit of the City of Tempe Solid Waste Services Department was unveiled on Wednesday, 7/1/09 in front of 50 or so government and community education leaders from around the Valley and the state.

ERIC makes his debut

ERIC makes his debut

The center will make the rounds to community events and schools to teach kids big and small about recycling, it’s impact, and what happens with recycled materials. The City of Tempe and ADEQ funded the unit. Quality Vans managed the project and fabricated the trailer with educational displays designed and fabricated by Nicomia, materials and technology consulting by a.k.a. Green Services, and a range of services provided by others.

ERIC's shell introduces visitors to a range of recycled materials

ERIC's shell introduces visitors to a range of recycled materials

The unit itself is an example of walking the turtle talk. In order to keep power consumption low, tubular skylights light up the interior (donated by Velux) and innovative reflector spot CFL bulbs are used in tracklighting to light the displays. Compact LED can lights in the tight ceiling provide space lighting on overcast days. So, not only is the lighting extremely energy efficient, but it adds very little heat load to the inside space.

The flooring is recycled rubber Nike Grind from old shoes, donated by Nike. Ground cork provides a warm ceiling tile. The interior wood is FSC-certified and has no added-urea formaldehyde, and the adhesives and sealers are low VOC.

Visitors learn from hands-on, visual displays
Visitors learn from hands-on, visual displays
The project was running on a fast track in order to meet an ADEQ end of year deadline, but you would never know it based upon the stellar outcome. We are proud to have participated in this important community education tool and look forward to seeing ERIC at upcoming events.