Passive Housing

Passive housing is all the rage for green builders and responsible homeowners these days, but what exactly is it? Essentially it is a standard for energy efficiency in the built environment that seeks to reduce the structures carbon footprint. Heating and cooling consumes great amounts of energy due to air escaping structures around doors, windows and even through walls. Gene Wixsom, of Green Builders Inc and a passive house consultant, sees passive housing as turning homes into a secured energy envelope that should reduce energy consumption as compared to a normal house. Infrared assessments can be used to find temperature leeks inside and outside of a building and based on the results contractors can determine what improvements need to be made.

There are many design parameters that can be used to keep temperature and air regulated within a structure and many examples of how to achieve these parameters:

  • Insulation Levels – superinsulation
  • Low Air Escape – careful sealing and air barriers
  • Solar and Landscape Impact – passive solar gain, vertical gardens and green roofs
  • Window Technology – Triple pained technologies
  • Ventilation – Cross ventilation, heat recovery ventilation
  • Lighting – Daylighting, solar panel systems

Generally the best way to sell home improvements is to report the return on investment, but passive house improvements are not so easy to quantify; therefore the health and wellness of residents and the environment must be pushed. Living in a properly built energy envelope will payback, but the amount and time it takes is uneasy to reach, so passive house advocates have promoted the health benefits of constantly taking in fresh over stale air and helping the environment as well.

A Green Hammer passive house restoration is almost finished in Portland, Oregon and the home owner couldn’t be happier or more involved with the process. Just a few examples of improvements that set the house apart from its neighbors:

  • Forest Stewardship Council Wood
  • Insulation under the home
  • Seismic retrofitting
  • 3,000 gallon cistern (tax credit)
  • Metal roofing
  • Green sealing tape
  • Cellulose Insulation (ground up newspaper)
  • Mini split heat pump
  • Heat recovery ventilator
  • Pocket doors

The senior homeowners of the new passive home are obviously long term thinkers. After their kids had all grown and moved on they decided they didn’t need so much room and that there was no sense in paying for utilities on a limited budget. The downstairs bathroom is also wheel chair accessible just in case stairs are no longer an option due to old age. How is it that so few people prepare for the long haul?

Passive CommericalHammer & Hand remodeling services, a small business of Portland, is currently pursuing many passive house remodels, but one that stands out is the first passive commercial building retrofit in the US. The Glasswood Passive House site was first built in 1912 and had been left vacant for quite a few years while the neighborhood around it slowly improved. The plans so far for the building is to have a passive house office on the second floor and a popular, high performance restaurant on the ground level. The lower level will not technically meet passive house criteria, but the air system in the building will provide much better air quality than a conventional building. Glasswood Passive House Walls

Aside from how beautiful these passive houses are and will be, they will serve as a perfect models for future housing design and construction. Perhaps this strategy would come in handy in a climate as hot and sunny as Texas…


Ambitious Alternative


Part of the U.S. and Canadian Green Building Councils, Cascadia Green Building council (CGBC) covers the regions of British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Idaho and Montana. CGBC works to fulfill the Green Building Council’s goals of encouraging green building to businesses and the public, and serving as consulting to help firms connect. Cascadia achieves funding from membership fees like most other building councils and works in the realm of LEED certifications as well. The CGBC has four guiding issues that keep the organization focused on the problems they are trying to solve:

  1. Climate Change from Global Warming Pollution
  2. Persistent Toxic Chemicals
  3. Habitat Loss/Species Extinction
  4. Global Equity

Seven Building Parameters

LEED certification has been associated with deficiencies in the rating system and the Cascadia Green Building Council has come up with an alternative certification program that seeks to establish truly sustainable buildings. This advocacy and certification program is known as The Living Building Challenge. The necessary procedures can be applied to buildings, homes and neighborhoods with one word in mind, “zero”. Seven performance areas establish the parameters of the program, known as “Petals”. Twenty crucial subcategories fall under the seven petals that must be met to gain certification. The challenge calls for buildings to be more like flowers, because flowers take in everything they need from nature and do not need outside resources to live. A living building would provide for itself through design working with local climate and ecosystems. Some sub-parameters, such as “net zero water”, have proven to be quite challenging due to regulations and climate issues (not enough rain), but if this challenge can take off, a new era of building functionality could be a part of saving our planet and ourselves.

Business Development in Portland


Greater Portland Inc, an economic development commission for the city of Portland hopes to increase economic energy in the region by not encouraging every business or growth of any kind, but working to bring eco-minded and smart growth initiatives to the forefront of opportunities. Greater Portland Inc (GPInc) uses recruitment strategies to spur business growth by bringing together public and private resources in an effort to make the region look as attractive as possible. Over time Portland has become a thriving, green, export economy, which would attract most businesses and homeowners, but there is always room for improvements. After merging the two original development organizations, Greater Portland Inc has started up with generally fifty/fifty public and private funding.

GPInc works to constantly improve the city by promoting green initiatives like bioswales along public sidewalks and encouraging newly moved companies to set up shop in green buildings and retrofitting rather than building new. These promotions to companies bring about tax credits which help GPInc stay in business. This development group has gathered plenty of attention simply because it is not simply publicly funded and controlled. Partly privatizing a firm such as this allows for an unbiased approach to promoting the region. Even though Portland is a major manufacturing hub with highly educated citizens it still might be a challenge to encourage business with a progressive tax, but with all of the long term improvements and developments across the region; the tax might seem meager compared to the savings over time.

Eco Education

In the North West, Sustainability and Green/Eco Friendly promotions and advertisements are very numerous, from recycling and composting everywhere to sustainability tip ads on the side of  garbage trucks. Education and advocacy for sustainability is on the rise with businesses and organizations  all over the world and they are taking actions to decrease consumption and waste, but there are more who need to learn what sustainability is and how to become change agents for the better. In Seattle and Portland, non-profits have taken it upon themselves to educate the public with hands on, real world experiences in sustainable practices.

Sustainable Seattle LogoIn 1991, those in the Seattle community came together to address issues with the local environment, particularly runoff issues from the mass amount of rain in the region. Another function the non-profit provides are measurements for sustainable initiatives so that results may be defined quantitatively. For the most part Sustainable Seattle is powered by volunteering efforts and receives limited funding from grants and donations. The city of Seattle supplements sustainable advocacy, which has helped Sustainable Seattle get the word out to volunteers and community organizers.Happiness Initiative

Sustainable Seattle projects cover a wide array of topics, from encouraging a alternative measures of Gross National Product to educating and implementing rain garden projects across Seattle.

  • Neighborhood Sustainability Workshops
  • Regional Sustainability Indicators
  • Good Business Workshops
  • Rain Gardens and Bioswales
  • Sustainable Community Outstanding Outstanding Leadership and Innovation AwardsAward Event

These steps taken by Sustainable Seattle has established the small organization as a force for good in area and the community has embraced the mission. In a way they have become a consultant for the community, trying to hammer out environmental and societal issues over time.

Washington Green SchoolsAnother sustainable community education program heads into Seattle schools to teach methods and measures for going green. Washington Green Schools, a non-profit with a goal of teaching students and educators about sustainability, works with teachers, students and parent organizations to provide hands on programs and progress reports that will save the schools money and increase awareness for all participating. This program, funded by grants & corporate/individual donations, breaks up school initiatives into five categories of environmental change:

Christ the King Teachers at TT

    • Energy
    • Healthy School Buildings
    • Transportation
    • Waste and Recycling
    • Water

The school will establish seven steps to reaching their goals within the category. They will also be responsible for starting small action steps in the remaining categories. To exhibit lasting change, the school and Washington Green Schools will have to implement these changes for over a year before qualitative and quantitative checks can be made. If criteria for success is met, the school will be certified as a Washington Green School and can display their flag proudly. The program has seen great success in having older students inform and train younger age groups so that all students begin working together as change agents within the schools. The criteria for certification is laid out in a report card format (with points) for easy understanding across the board.

Maple 2 getting garbage

This program could work as a model for the rest of the country in encouraging children to embrace sustainability at a young age and carrying it out as they grow into adulthood. So far 211 out of the 2,300 public and private schools in the Seattle region are participating, many reaching their goals and establishing new targets to hit.

Got Green?

Sustainability is not just about the environment; it is also about people and Got Green grassroots organizing is all about spreading the message that equity and opportunity is pivotal in reaching sustainability for all in society. This campaign sees social equity within a green economy as the best solution for poverty as well as environmental concerns. The leadership of the group hopes to educate policy makers and community leaders about the uphill battle lower income communities face in the emerging green economy. Got Green is currently promoting three major areas of interest that could not only help lower income, but add to the green effort as well. They hope to better access to healthy foods in lower income neighborhoods through farmers market upstarts and “Nutrition Bucks”, which can be used as currency only for healthy farmers market fruits and vegetables. Involving women in the green economy is another area of interest that could go hand in hand with providing healthier food alternatives, because women generally handle food preparation at home and at work. Educating lower income families, specifically women, might spur a lower class movement to demand healthier food options, such as local produce and meat. A major push for Got Green is to encourage decision makers to consider hiring the unemployed in local and green construction sites/developments. The idea is that local impoverished and unemployed workers living nearest new development projects should be considered for work, because it would help the local economy and lower transportation costs. They have also been pushing for green pursuits to take place in lower income areas due to lower utilities helping the local economy.

Some might regard this as demands for money, resources and jobs, but it makes sense that areas that lack investment will falter, unless jobs can arise somehow; why not use that area as a test region for green technology and development. Local workers will benefit from work and can use that money to pay rent and save money from utilities to use in the local economy. Got Green has the plans to keep money in the local economy and make sure that everyone and the environment is thriving, but it will take a spark of investment and attention to get the fire going.

Earth Advantage InstituteThe Earth Advantage Institute of Portland, Oregon advocates and educates for reducing carbon through the built environment. The institute provides LEED and Passive House consulting, audits and certifications and an array of education initiatives and programs for growing interests in the green built environment. Their programs cover a wide array, from residential and commercial building development strategies to energy performance scoring and life cycle assessments.Courses

Aside from consulting and initiating development, Earth Advantage Institute also provides an abundance of training, workshops and courses to gain knowledge over new sustainable programs and technologies. These classes are appropriate for homeowners repairing their homes to commercial and home builders trying to get into the green building game. To help in advocating for green building, the institute also hosts fairs, forums, workshops and tours to educate the public on sustainable solutions in homes and commercial buildings. By pushing the value of building green, the Earth Advantage Institute has found a lucrative market for educating new building technologies and certifications to sustainable advocates, big and small.

Educating sustainable causes to the general public is a critical approach to someday gaining true sustainability driven cultures and economies. “What they don’t know, won’t hurt em” is wrong when it comes to people, planet and profit. Information is the key to advancing out of the carbon conundrum that exists today. Every special piece of knowledge is a tool that school children, builders, developers, underprivileged and unemployed can use to benefit themselves, others and the planet. With organizations like the before mentioned advocating and educating, it is only a matter of time before whole generations begin to think and act differently, for the better.

Climate Solutions

Climate Solutions is a regional non-profit focused on discovering the causes of climate change and environmental dilemmas. The North West agency promotes finding solutions to these problems in order to reach sustainable communities who thrive and work together for the future. Environmentalism often focuses on the negative aspects of the problem, whereas Climate Solutions workforce positions itself on the “yes” or positive side of the issues so that all sides can come together to make lasting agreements. Bridging the divides between businessmen, environmentalists and citizens will lead to “make it real” programs, or agreements and initiatives that will actually lead to lasting change. At Climate Solutions, advocating and litigating is the name of the game and working to sway public opinion or policy toward a climate conscious direction is the goal.

Power Past CoalOregon and Washington’s Climate Solutions branches are focusing mostly on coal, “Power Past Coal”. Both states are facing huge exports of coal to Asia and Climate Solutions is working to spread the word and change the policy. They hope to accomplish this by using words and phrases, such as “Coal Exporting?” and “It’s better if they don’t burn ours” – Tom Power. Eventually they will be bringing up what effect transporting coal by train has on the environment and health in the local region. Another effective tool for changing minds and policy is rating legislators voting decisions and habits.

Although Climate Solutions does not intend on becoming political, they seem to have a knack for policy divides and appropriate advocacy. Unfortunately climate denial has shrouded the science in a political veil that some are afraid to touch. Hopefully an advocacy group as established and mindful as Climate Solutions will find the expression necessary to change minds before it is too late.

Green Consulting

Compared to the “Great State of Texas”, Oregon and Washington are amassing a concentration of not for profit organizations geared toward sustainable and environmental programs. Although sustainability driven non-profits are beginning to emerge in Texas, not nearly as many are as well-funded and established as those in the North West. A smaller emphasis on profits seems to be emerging in the North West with not only the abundance of non-profits but B-corporations as well. Businesses trending toward reaching equilibrium between people, planet and profit might be the first step in changing our culture of commerce to one with more sustainable goals.

When a business is moving into a new area of expertise it is not always in their interest to hire a new work force with special knowledge, therefore consulting has found a niche as the industry of experts and integrators who can provide companies and organizations with professional advice and contacts necessary for amateur and new markets. Sustainability, one of the newest editions to business practices, may become a very lucrative sector for consulting firms across the nation. With so many disciplines and special knowledge wrapped into sustainable development; consulting over what actions to take is a necessity for businesses and organizations to pursue the correct positive changes they pursue. NBIS | Network for Business Innovation and Sustainability

One facet of consulting involves bringing the right people together so that each side might benefit by working together at some point in the future. This kind of consulting has gone on for some time now in organizations across the board, but firms such as Network For Business Innovation and Sustainability (NBIS), have fully embraced advancing the business case for sustainability not only through consulting members, but also organizing social events for NBIS member groups to host. Leaders at NBIS are fully aware that commerce contains the greatest leverage for helping or hurting sustainability. Due to this, NBIS, a not for profit organization, always makes the business case that sustainability is profitable through qualitative and quantitative results. These results are conveyed through triple bottom line metrics that explain societal and environmental aspects, as well as monetary indicators for a more holistic progress report. Aside from sustainable consulting, NBIS also pursues workshops, forums and eco hours; member/non-member networking opportunities for organizations and businesses in Seattle and surrounding North West regions.

NBIS Services Model  imageNBIS has also decided to pursue community connections with businesses in order to provide socially conscious pursuits that organizations can take advantage of and get involved in. These pursuits involve regional problems and NBIS is there to help companies figure out how to be a part of the solution, through volunteering and donations. Many non-profits garner funding through grants provided by the public sector, whether that be the federal or local government, but NBIS gathers most funding through membership dues. This is due to most grants going toward direct approach actions, not systematic changes, which NBIS generally conducts; but if non-profits such as NBIS can remain solvent over time with membership dues and without grants from the public sector, profitless organizations might find a whole new batch of entrepreneurial talent to lead the non-profit sector. Bright minds do not always want to join organizations to beg for money, so if membership into organizations such as NBIS becomes popular, sustainable not for profits might have a new strategy for sustaining.


Not all non-profits are created equal, nevertheless non-profits geared toward sustainability tend to have some overlap. The Network for Business Innovation and Sustainability and EarthShare Washington both work with businesses on employee engagement. They provide education for employees through workbooks software and advisement that the company or areas within the company can use to become more sustainable and aware. EarthShare also provides organizations and their employees with charitable opportunities in the realm of environment and sustainability. Providing these opportunities is actually EarthShare’s central activity and highest source of funding. This firm represents many non-profit organizations and assists them with campaign/fundraising recommendations and procedures, such as tax and legal filing. Workplace giving is a procedure that EarthShare advocates; this helps many non-profits and companies benefit from individual employees choosing where annual donations are awarded. Yet another novel idea for non-profit funding: raising money by helping others raise money.

ecotrust logo

Ecotrust, another not for profit dealing in consultation, has found a way to serve many purposes and remain financially sound for quite some time. Evolving over the years, Ecotrust has been pursuing environmental conservation and consultations since the beginning, worldwide. Spencer Beibei then decided it was time to focus his efforts in the Northwest, so the Natural Capital or “Ecotrust” building was created. After retrofitting an aging train depot originally, the building was used for Ecotrust and environmentally minded organizations offices. Patagonia and a few sustainable minded eateries were then allowed to rent the bottom floor and the Natural Capital Building became what it is today. These tenants enjoy green minded patrons seeing their company’s name and cheaper rent from all the savings in utilities. At the same time, Ecotrust enjoys those benefits plus regular rent to fund the endeavors it pursues. Other than consulting, the firm aims at accomplishing initiatives in the following areas: Ecotrust Building

  • Fisheries, Food and Farms
  • Native American Programs
  • Whole Watershed Restorations
  • Forest and Ecosystem Services
  • Marine Life Initiatives
  • A Natural Capital FundNatural Capital Building

The savings in utilities stems from the sustainable design implemented in the restoration of the building. Green roof/walls keeps insulation costs down while also collecting runoff (a tax incentive in the NW) with the parking lot’s bioswales. Sustainable lighting and window placement is also a feature of the building that has saved so much money over time for the occupants. Along with sustainable building materials (rubber flooring, recycled carpet square installation, Forest Stewardship Council Wood and ash concrete), the building is a model of sustainable capital. Ecotrust doesn’t have to deal with fundraising to often, due to rent collection and therefore can focus on consultation efforts, like ecosystem service evaluation, data collection/management, life cycle analysis, software development and many more initiatives. The Natural Capital building truly is a model for the direction businesses, organizations and commercial buildings should head in.

One consulting firm that is not a non-profit, but uses the power of business to create public benefit, is Green Building Services Inc. This type of corporation is known as a Benefit Corporation and unlike regular businesses these must meet: comprehensive and transparent social and environmental performance standards, raise legal accountability standards and build business constituency for public policies that support sustainable business. GBS started out as a local utility in Portland in 2005 and has quickly grown to become a firm that deals in energy services, LEED training and consulting. Essentially, GBS is a one stop shop for getting green developments off the ground and maintaining them properly. The consulting efforts of GBS exist on five continents, consisting of %5 of all LEED certifications.

All of these organizations not only consult in green development, but are located in a LEED certified or green office of some kind. They consult because they can talk the talk, but after viewing their facilities it’s easy to see they also walk the walk themselves. Fortunately, these companies that are not seeking profits or mega profits are thriving in a region that obviously embraces and supports environmental and social endeavors. Although each of these work in different areas of green consulting, there is quite a bit of similarities between them, including their green global logos…

Organic vs Sustainable

Welcome to Bella Organic Farm

Farming in Oregon has gone on for quite some time, but for the first time in Portland, a push has been made to go organic. On Sauvie Island, just North East of downtown Portland, Bella Organic Farm has decided to put the extra effort in and stop using weed killer and other harmful pesticides. Now in its seventh season, Bella Farm regularly sells fruits, herbs and vegetables in the organic farm store and also hosts festivals for the greater Portland community.

Many would assume that “organic” and “sustainable” go hand in hand, but this is not the case. As the Bella Organic Farm’s website states their “goal is to promote responsible, Organic, and sustainable farming practices” and they obviously know there is a difference. There is no sustainable certification for farming practices or products and it would be understandable that consumers would assume that organic certification held sustainable practices in mind, but this is not so. The requirements for USDA Organic certification are as follows:

  • Prohibit most synthetic pesticides and fertilizers
  • Prohibit all antibiotics, genetic engineering, irradiation and sewage sludge
  • Require all organically produced animals have 100% organic feed (which does not contain any animal byproducts or growth hormones)
  • Require all organically produced animals to have access to the outdoors
  • Require that processed products labeled organic contain at least 95% organic ingredients

Although most of these provisions will lead to positive sustainable outcomes for the planet and people, there are plenty of ways that agricultural practices could receive designation while doing harm to the environment. At Bella, weed killing performed by hand with plows, a backbreaking but sustainable practice. Now at the same time they use a tractor to till the fields. The tractor is not big by any means, but is powered by gasoline and will not technically be sustainable until run on biodiesel. This is a small issue and it is very easy to nitpick through a sustainable lens. Industrial organic farms on the other hand, could be using many industrial sized, gasoline powered, tractors. They might also not provide workers with a living wage or benefits, causing societal inefficiencies. Sourcing locally, zero emissions practices and many other sustainable factors are not considered in the certification process, which is understandable because the USDA is in the business of food production, not sustainability.

Organics and certifications are not by any means anti-sustainable and the more small scale the farming, the more likely it will be sustainably produced. However, sustainability is a journey and it should be our intention to always strive to do better.