Archive for the ‘Book Review’ category

Drawdown – A Playbook for the Climate Anxious

July 13th, 2017

 

“No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.”
―Stanislaw Lec

Like many others out there I am suffering from climate anxiety, and yes, it’s a thing. In fact, there is even a 9 step program for it available in some cities.

I sometimes feel like there is very little I can do to help reverse the fairly dire situation we have gotten ourselves into. Right now, people on the front line, such as scientists, politicians, and civil servants, are working on developing adaptations to climate change. There are small island countries, such as the Maldives, in the Pacific Ocean whose governments have bought land on nearby mainland for the inevitable time that their homeland is under water; officials from cities along the shores of the east coast of the United States are regularly visiting Holland to take lessons on how they have adapted to living below sea level. » Read more: Drawdown – A Playbook for the Climate Anxious

The Top 10 Green Lifestyle Books.. EVER!

December 22nd, 2014

When it comes to clean and sustainable living, it’s often not as simple as presented on TV or commercials. Becoming a vegetarian or sorting your trash before taking it to the dumpster is one thing, but you have to invest a lot more effort in order to reduce your damaging effects on nature and environment.

Fortunately we live in a world where information is easily accessible and now you can learn how to develop a green lifestyle in the most efficient way.

With no further ado, here is our guide on the top 10 books you need to read when adopting a green lifestyle:

 

  1. Mini Farming: Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre

As the title might suggest, this book explains how an organic farm can be built and run on a quarter acre, or even less. It’s all about organizing space, knowing what and when to plant and how to maximize your harvest while reducing your overall carbon footprint. The kind of farms presented in this book are able to produce most of the products required in a family’s yearly diet. More than that, with half the time invested in a regular office job, it’s suggested you can produce enough to secure a yearly income of about $10.000.

 

  1. The Encyclopedia of Country Living

This title is a classic. It’s actually at its 40th anniversary, and even today it’s a great read.

Some of the content is a little outdated: the niche of organic farming has boomed and now we have more efficient methods and technologies available for sustainable green farming than the ones available when this book was written.

The Encyclopedia of Country Living is also known as The Original Manual of Living off the Land & Doing It Yourself – whichever you pick up you will soon find yourself in ‘farmer mode’. It presents the approach a man or woman should have towards the land and it’s a great motivational literature for starting to live your dream of a green life.

  1. The Backyard Homestead

The third book on our list is another farming guide which explains how to develop a farm when the land is an issue. However, the approaches used in this book can also be put in practice on bigger farms with more land at their disposal. The Backyard Homestead will teach you how to store, preserve, organize and cook the things you produce in your farm on a larger scale than Mini-Farming mentioned above.

 

  1. Generation Green: The Ultimate Teen Guide to Living an Eco-Friendly Life

Generation Green covers the issues touched on in our first three books, but takes it on from the perspective of a teenager.  It’s not the type of book that you can pass to a teenager and it convince them of the merits of green living; it’s a book to supplement an existing green mindset in our teens.  If you’re just starting in the green world, this a great intro for anybody.

 

  1. The Green Beauty Guide

Have you ever thought about what happens with the water of your bathroom sink after you wash your hands? Maybe you know that it goes down the drain and then into the local sewage plant that makes it clean again. However, there are some things that can’t be taken out from the water before releasing it back into a nearby river or lake. Things like the chemicals we use every day as skin care creams, make-up, bath-salts and other toileting products. The Green Beauty Guide is here to help you reduce the chemicals you release into the nature, by teaching you how and from where you can buy organic beauty and self-care products that can be reabsorbed into the nature.

» Read more: The Top 10 Green Lifestyle Books.. EVER!

Green Building Illustrated: Book Review

September 24th, 2014
Green Building Illustrated

Green Building Illustrated

Francis Ching is a well-known author and illustrator of books on design and construction, perhaps within the building sector his most well-known book is Building Construction Illustrated. Collaborating with Ian Shapiro on this latest book, the pair have developed a good introduction to green building for those just becoming familiar with the field, but it also serves as a good reference guide to green building for those of us with more experience.

“What is green building?”

The point of the question is to highlight the reality that it is really an evolving definition. Some buildings built to a high standard, have, upon evaluation, turned out to be less green than their standard counterparts because they use more energy than the comparative standard, whereas some net-zero or close to net zero buildings aren’t classified as green because the owner has decided not to go through the hoops necessary to become classified.

Further,  the authors address why building greener buildings is important, referring to climate change effects as well as resource depletion. They also delve into the different green classification systems that are available.What I like about this book is that after reading it you gain a basic understanding of all the elements involved in building a better, more resilient, lower impact building.

Hosting a Design Charette

Shapiro and Ching emphasize that with the development, design and construction of any building, there are thousands of decisions that are made. One decision affects another, so it means that there are trade-offs for every decision. Getting the design done right at the beginning can save time and money down the road and one of the best ways to do that is to have a design charette. A charette is like a round table discussion where every involved party can have a say in how the design will affect their portion of the building from plumbing, electrical, HVAC concerns, material selection, and occupant use post construction. Ideally charettes include the architect, general contractor, sub-trades, building owner and manager, in other words, all stakeholders.

The book is clearly illustrated and dedicates a good section to design and design issues. Getting the design right is one of the best ways to have the most significant impact on constructing a lower impact building. Again the book is thought-provoking: the authors ask “green buildings are lower impact than what?” In fact Shapiro gently takes LEED to task because the system fails to give points for designing a building that has a smaller surface area (therefore less exposure to the elements), than its standard counterpart. In other words, no points are given for designing a more efficiently shaped building than might otherwise be built. The authors explain the differences between the different green building rating systems out there, including LEED, Passivhaus, Living Building Challenge, and Green Globes.

Another perspective of the book is that it teaches readers to design buildings from the outside in, in layers. So, it looks at landscaping, site and orientation and how those factors affect the design of the building. Further, Shapiro and Ching highlight with detailed drawings, the importance of surface area on the energy efficiency of a building. In general terms, the smaller the surface area, the greater the energy efficiency of the building.

It takes only one brief glance at the chapter on windows to confirm that all those glass condos going up all over Toronto and Montreal are  an energy efficiency nightmare. Windows, in addition to having terrible insulation values, also pose potential leak problems between their frames and the building. If not sealed properly there is an extra source of potential drafts and water infiltration.

The chapter on building materials emphasizes the need to consider local, recycled and other materials with a low embodied energy. There is a handy table that shows the different embodied energy of different types of wall constructions.

One of the best features of this book is that it is an all in one reference guide for looking at how to build better buildings from design through to commissioning (evaluating a building’s systems to make sure they are all functioning properly). Once read cover to cover, it can be used as a reference guide to greener building and the different factors that need to be taken into account. While the book does not delve deep into any one area, it does provide a readable and approachable overview that’s easily understood by laypersons as well as professionals familiarizing themselves with green building practices. If I have one complaint, it is that for old people like myself, the spidery, handwritten style font is difficult to read.

Green Building Illustrated is available through John Wiley and Sons, or Amazon.

Making Better Buildings Book Review

May 26th, 2014
Making Better Buildings

Making Better Buildings

I was asked to read and write a review for Chris Magwood’s new book, Making Better Buildings. I have written a good deal about the work that Chris does in the field as the director of the Endeavour Centre, a spin-off of a green building program that was developed at Sir Sanford Flemming College in Peterborough. Chris has substantial experience in using better, greener building materials and has used his knowledge to write this book.

The book is indispensable for anyone wanting to build a home using lower impact materials than today’s standard code-built home. The materials are classified by category for use in different phases of building, including foundations, walls, insulation, windows then roofing. Most of the book’s emphasis is placed on the materials used for the building envelope but there are also sections dedicated to different types of residential renewable energy generation, HVAC systems and interior finishes for floors, walls and counter tops, etc.

Chris describes how a material is manufactured including whether it’s harvested, mined, developed from chemicals, etc. You get a clear understanding of the overall environmental impact of a material.

One of the dilemmas I face when I write about materials is just exactly how green a material really is. With this book you can compare different types of foundations by how much embodied energy they contain as well as other environmental parameters.  A foundation made from earth-bagged forms has a “sample building embodied energy” of 0-16,665 megajoules while a foundation made from old tires and rammed earth (8% concrete) has a “sample building embodied energy” of 0-29,216 MJ. The variation depends on whether the materials are virgin or sourced on site and repurposed. This type of  material analysis is done for every material listed in the book so that each material can be compared consistently to another within the same category.

What Chris’ book does is thoroughly analyze materials in a way that helps novice and experienced builders decide which material will work best for their project and the impact on the environment that each material has. There is a chart for each material that identifies and rates on a scale of 1-10, not just embodied energy, but also,

  • overall environmental impacts,
  • waste generated,
  • energy efficiency of the product,
  • material costs,
  • labour inputs,
  • skill level needed by homeowner,
  • sourcing,
  • durability,
  • building code compliance and
  • indoor air quality.

By taking an analytical perspective, Chris remains impartial to each material. Note that he leaves out common building materials such as poured concrete foundations because their environmental impact is so detrimental.

Chris has created a list of pros and cons for each material to help you understand why one material might be more widely used than another.

If you are interested in building a home with a lower environmental impact  than the current standard built home offers, this is a great reference guide to help familiarize you with all of the latest lower impact materials currently available for building a home.

You can purchase Making Better Buildings through New Society (the publisher)’s website.

 

Interface Flooring Strives for Complete Carbon Neutrality by 2020

August 20th, 2012

Confessions of a Radical Industrialist

As usual, being the environmental contradiction that I am (sigh), I drove our Jetta Diesel from Montreal and Toronto far too often this summer. If you’ve never done this drive along the 401 — well, you’re lucky. It’s possibly the most boring and monotonous 5 hours you’ll ever spend. I found that the best coping mechanism is listening to audio books to help get through the drive. I have taken the opportunity to listen to a bunch of books I want to read, but would likely take me several months to get through (ie., business books). One of the books I listened to was Confessions of a Radical Industrialist by Ray Anderson.

When I looked through my website to see what I’d written about Interface, it turns out not a lot. It’s possible that I overlooked it because the product (carpet tile) and company, are  just so ingrained into every eco-designer’s and builder’s psyche, that I just assumed it was like writing about air — everyone knows about it, uses it already, so it would be pointless. But then I’d be wrong. As it turns out, while people inside the green building world are familiar with the company and its founder, Ray Anderson, the majority of people outside the green building world have never even heard of the company, let alone Ray Anderson.

In a nutshell, his book is a step by step guide of how one man came to the realization that not only was humankind responsible for climate change, but that his company was part of the problem. He proceeds to describe his goal for his company (complete carbon neutrality by 2020) and how they go about achieving it.

Ray’s “aha” moment came to him after reading The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken. Hawken states that not only are companies the main contributor to climate change, but they are also the means that will find solutions and adaptations to climate change. Ray got this message. Then he realized that his company, which makes nylon carpet tiles, was a significant contributor to the pollution mess we’re in. So Ray brought all of his senior executives together in a room one day and told them that he wanted Interface flooring to become a carbon neutral company, and the faster, the better. Needless to say, at first they thought he was nuts — he’d never shown any concern for the environment before. Furthermore, Interface’s product, carpet tiles, is made out of nylon, a 100% petroleum-based product. So how in the world do you become carbon neutral when your product is 100% dependent on petroleum?

It’s a question Interface has been dealing with since 1994. The company has set a carbon neutral goal for 2020. That gives them only 26 years to eliminate carbon from their manufacturing process. The company has made great strides in decreasing its carbon content while still providing a great product. Interface has tackled lowering its use of oil in its packaging, office operations, energy for machinery, transportation, etc. It is also finding ways to reduce its waste to zero (as Ray points out numerous times: “There is no ‘away'” — meaning that all waste will go somewhere, if not into new products, then it will end up in landfill and stay there). Right now the company is looking for ways to increase its recycled content and decrease its use of virgin petroleum. It even has a take-back program for old carpet tiles.

Interface FLOR carpet tiles

Interface FLOR carpet tiles

While Interface primarily deals with commercial and business properties, it does have a line of residential carpet (Flor) as well. If you’re in the market for new carpet, it’s worth looking into, particularly if you lean towards modern tastes.

What I really like about this book is that Ray has “seen the light”. Because he is not seen as a radical, treehugger-hippie, but rather as a businessman at the top of his company, he can direct his employees to do what it takes to decrease the company’s carbon and water footprint. And, because he is so determined to achieve carbon-neutral status, his employees bring him ideas that would be nixed before they reached senior management in most other companies. Ray gives the example of one of their factories in California. There was a proposal to put solar panels on the roof of a manufacturing building. The panels would generate a small amount of the plant’s electricity needs and cost $1.2 million. Even as I was listening, I was shaking my head thinking the cost was ridiculous vis a vis the output of electricity. But Ray told them to go ahead. Why? Because it was the right thing to do. The marketing department at Interface produced an astounding campaign around the solar panels because they ended up powering one of the carpet machines providing it with 100% renewable electricity. The product that came off that machine became a major success, more than justifying the cost of the solar panels. Huh. Who’d have thought a $1.2 million investment could have made that much of a difference. And that’s the point. Ray was a leader in every sense of the word. When he asked for something to be done it was done, even if his employees might have been skeptical at first. He was willing to take risks (sometimes they didn’t pay off, but that didn’t stop him), and he remained convinced that decreasing Interface’s carbon footprint was the best business decision he’d made. It increased the company’s efficiency, decreased its waste and water use, lowered its expenses in other areas and helped make it a leader in flooring in the commercial world.

Because Ray got it, and because he was the head of the company, the sustainable directive filtered down through the organization. If employees didn’t agree with him they would either have kept it to themselves or looked for other work. But it also allowed his organization to hire innovative thinkers and people who wanted to work for a company that was striving to make the carpeting world a better place.

However — and this is a big however — a company’s sustainability goals will not be easily achieved where the CEO doesn’t have Ray’s “aha” moment. Unfortunately most captains of industry find the task of transforming their company into “Sustainable Company 2.0” too daunting to even begin to look at and if the leaders aren’t convinced that decreasing their carbon, water and waste footprint is important, the company will never succeed in achieving sustainability. The pressure needs to come from the top.

Sadly, Ray Anderson passed away earlier this year. While his legacy and mandate continue on at Interface Flooring, his influence and sustainability leadership within the business community is greatly missed. Hopefully, other business leaders will take up his gauntlet and continue his mission towards carbon neutrality within their own companies.

For more information on Interface Flooring’s sustainability efforts, visit the website.

To see the FLOR products (residential carpet tiles), see here.

 

 

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