Friday, August 28, 2009

CEO Panelists Set for Wall Street Journal Chicago Insight Exchange

Readers in the midwest might find this upcoming conference of interest to high-performance workplace designers and others interested in improving their space and operations. The keynote address that kicks off the conference, by Rackspace Chairman Graham Weston, might be of special interest. Graham will undoubtedly discuss the company’s ongoing move into an old San Antonio mall they now call “the castle” (see his blog), and the innovations they’re undertaking in the space to make it an attractive place to work and boost productivity. There are videos worth watching telling the story in a couple of parts. How do you take really vanilla unwanted industrial space and turn it into something innovative? Check out the videos and check out the Insight Exchange Breakfast hosted by the Wall St. Journal at the ROI of Great Workplaces Conference hosted by Winning Workplaces in Chicago in early October.

This tip came from Winning Workplace's Blog Author Mark Harbeke. You can read more about this and other interesting innovation focused writing there for the high performance workplace. Thanks Mark!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The New Energy Economy, Vermont and Colorado Parallels

Colorado Governor Bill Ritter at the 6th Annual American Renewable Energy Day (AREDAY) in Aspene last weekend recounted how he helped Barack Obama last year on the campaign trail to see the possibilities of a 'New Energy Economy' based on Colorado's success with it. Apparently it is due to 'marriage of sorts' between environmental and economic policy. He went on to discuss various success stories in the public and private sector since attaining office in 2006. His main focus was how to use the 'transition to clean energy as an economic engine'.

Last week Bernie Sanders chaired a Green Jobs Hearing in Montpelier, at the statehouse where he asked experts from private green oriented industry and similar Vermont public entities to speak about their work and vision integrating energy efficiency, sustainable energy and green jobs development together under the Green Collar economy umbrella. Sanders goal was to collect testimony to spread the word about clean energy job development policies happening in Vermont and how what we're doing is applicable for others nationwide.

Between Colorado and Vermont as green 'new energy economy' leaders there is a lot to learn other states can take away. The one thing that's hard to replicate however is the unique synergy of green thinking into the DNA of those who live and work in each State. This is partly due to long-held environmentally focused values, a culture awareness of the finitude of natural resources and willingness to have hard discussions together. Whether it's the lack of water for example in Colorado and rampant growth issues in metropolitan areas or stormwater versus acid rain in Vermont, aesthetic and visual impacts of Wind Energy vs. the Merits as renewable energy source and permitting reform, both States have a vital dialogue about these issues which spurs other conversations and intiatives such as the 'New Energy Economy' or 'Green Jobs' discussions.

This synergy of activism, involvement and innovation takes generations to develop. But with Colorado and Vermont's examples to follow among others, perhaps it might be easier for others to join in the conversation.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Green Walgreens in the Chicago Area - Logan Square

I'm excited about this Walgreens store in the Chicago area pursuing LEED Certification. Apparently it's their second Green store in the country and more are planned in the pipeline. It's awaiting certification at some advanced level which is likely to happen in 4-6 months. I know its mass market retail but if corporations like this don't take sustainability issues seriouusly how will we get the massive change to happen we all need, to achieve the kind of goals organizations like or www.2030.0rg aspire to?

It's such a wonderfully odd thing to consider doing business at a green Walgreen's where it is addressing numerous energy efficiency, sustainable sites, materials, water resources and indoor environmental quality issues in the design. I hope that the feedback and performance for the store is positive over the long haul and Walgreen's learns from this one, it's first in a colder climate, and builds more across the nation.

Obviously the stores are only part of the problem. It's the environments they're located in around the country which also needs alot of help. I'm talking about the suburban strip centers, mall parking lots and corner stores along major aterials where these retailers are often located. Sure, it's a complex auto based lifestyle puzzle but we've got to start tipping the scale in the other direction. Perhaps by companies like Walgreens initiating leadership such as this one store at a time, other retailers will catch on and postive effects will collectively be felt in time.

As someone who cares about high design and equitable design I also care about democratizing the green architecture movement and helping bring it into the mainstream. Doing so gives me hope for my children and the generations to follow.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Blog Feedback and the Importance of Adsense

Give me your feedback! Put it on the line!
I've been blogging for a while now and wonder if I could ask for some feedback from you, my loyal readers.

so here goes....
Ads.... how important, useful are the Ad-sense ads by Google on my blog? Are they helpful to you? Do you like clicking on them? Wish they weren't there? Are the Ad topics of interest to you?

From a content stand-point, are there other topics you'd like to see me write about or return back to which I haven't posted on recently?

In regards to ease of use, does this blog operate effectively for you when you navigate it? Is it easy or challenging? Fun, Annoying?

Are there any things I can do differently to make your time spent more engaging, interesting?

Any feedback would be greatly appreciated! Thanks, Steve

Friday, August 21, 2009

Does being or becoming Sustainable or Green benefit my business and bottom line?

Clients, Contractors and Business Partners often ask if becoming a more sustainable or green oriented organization is truly beneficial or just another buzzword which will fade in a year or so? It's a terrific question not be shied away from asking or answering. Based upon working with lots of public, private, for profit, non-profit customers I know the answer is evolving and relative to the situation of the business or organization asking. There is not one answer. First, do you have a set of core company values, a mission statement encompassing more than financial profits and success? If not, examine some Vermont examples where I live.

Working and growing up in Vermont I have luckily been exposed to some extraordinary companies with truly remarkable sustainable visions who have been models for others to follow over the last generation and mentors now for those following in their footsteps. Companies such as Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream, King Arthur Flour, Seventh Generation, NRG Systems, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, National Life of Vermont, Small Dog Electronics, Efficiency Vermont...the list goes on an on. Year after year they show remarkable performance and a large part of their success lies in the different way they run their businesses. Their success is driven by their focus on a triple bottom lined approach to seeing the world, of focusing on "People, Profits and Planet". They are active members of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, a non-profit focusing on how businesses can accumulate social and environmental capital along with economic prosperity in Vermont.

Each one of these companies believes strongly in a socially responsible vision and are leaders in their industries. As successful as they are as businesses they also are often voted best places to work in Vermont, with lots of economic data supporting or reinforcing why it's beneficial to embrace sustainability. They have extremely dynamic and vibrant work cultures or communities with a strong sense of corporate identity and shared goals. In the cases where these companies publish Corporate Responsibility Reports, they measure among many factors worker productivity, quality and types of benefits, workplace comfort, relative health and wellness, absentism, community volunteerism. These measures go beyond the ordinary business performance factors often measured in traditional end of the year financial reports.

Secondly, to support the organizational aspects of the high performance workplace a critical physical step is to provide to employees a green, sustainably oriented building or office fit-out. To be a sustainable business I feel also means embracing green building fundamentals which directly impact worker comfort and well-being and indirectly help the environment, lower organizational exposure to fluctuating energy costs. Many companies and organizations over the last five or ten years have dramatically embraced the Green Movement and are no longer beginners but rather moving on to the second or third generation of integrating green building ideas into their workplaces. Seeing what works and what does not. In the process many have facilities which are LEED certified and are walking their talk in a very open and visible way.

Here is some information from the USGBC:

Benefits of Green Building & Sustainbility in Business (adapted from the
US Green Building Council [USGBC] website, See below

Environmental benefits:
1. Enhance and protect ecosystems and biodiversity
2. Improve air and water quality
3. Reduce solid waste
4. Conserve natural resources

Economic benefits:
1. Reduce operating costs
2. Enhance asset value and profits
3. Improve employee productivity and satisfaction
4. Optimize life-cycle economic performance

Health and community benefits:
1. Improve air, thermal, and acoustic environments
2. Enhance occupant comfort and health
3. Minimize strain on local infrastructure
4. Contribute to overall quality of life


Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility

Winning Workplaces - Helping to create the High Performance Workplace

US Green Building Council - Facts for Businesses

(Disclosure, as a long term team member of Maclay Architects I have had the good fortune of working with NRG Systems, Seventh Generation and Efficiency Vermont, VBSR among others in various capacities, you can learn more about that work at our website)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Travel Sketches_Rome

Here's a few memorable sketches from a trip I took to Rome while traveling in the summer of 1991 with fellow graduate school students and instructors from the University of Colorado at Denver, College of Architecture and Planning where I graduated in 1992 with a Master's of Architecture. Examining these early sketches done almost 20 years ago I smile and hope they inspire others young and old alike to dust of the sketch books and passports and get out of dodge.

My current sketchbooks lack drawings and have many words whether from meetings, project observations or notes from conferences. It's encouraging to me see once again how powerful the acts of hand-sketching and synthetic thinking truly are. To inspire creativity and innovation, drawing is an essential act and should not be forgotten amidst our laptops, i-phones, android phones, smart phones and screens in general. Remember we're architects which is a mix of artist, scientist, engineer and anthropologist.... among a few. We must sketch to think!

An Earth Sheltered Net Zero House Sketch, an unbuilt project

  • So often we're inspired by nature and the earth. Here's a sketch from last year where I was exploring a south facing hillside site with a lifted and separated curving green roof. The house would be a two bedroom, two bath residence with an open and interconnected kitchen, dining living space with three distinct zones having an great room feel. It would hopefully be a net zero home, a residence which produces the same or more energy than it consumes.
  • The living areas fronts the building volume with easy access to the continous arbor covered terrace and ample views to the surroundings. The amount of glazing must be carefully studied through energy modeling. Overglazing would result in potentially over-heating the house and having to size up the airconditioning system at a higher cost and energy use.
  • The glu lam ribs of the home are akin to bones. The residence transitions from the solidity and darkness found within the earth to the lightness of a forest canopy along the continuous south facing porch. An overhead arbor with solar control helps minimize summer glare while providing a place for vines to grow over time. Solar trackers in a solar orchard are just a short walk away. Key bedrooms are organized on the ends of the rectangular volume with view windows to the outside. Interior spaces such as bathrooms are lit from overhead toplighting from triple insulated prismatic skylights.
  • The building enclosure would be super-insulated done in any number of manners suitable to the local climate and building tradititons. It would follow the (R5/R10/R20/R40/R60) for windows, below slabs, walls in below grade conditions, walls above grade and the ceiling as recommended by Joe Lstiburek, Ph.D., P.Eng. of Building Science Corporation. The windows would be triple insulated glazing with low-e argon filled units with thermal spacers set within fiberglas frames. The doors would be fiberglas frames as well to help reduce thermal bridging. The green roof could be extensive or intensive depending on clients desires and structural capabilities, cost, desire to care for the plantings etc. Agressive air-sealing standards would be followed to further reduce energy loads through minimizing energy loss through cracks and joints.
  • Heating would be delivered through a radiant slab. Cooling would be from strategically placed mini-split units. A back-up boiler would be fueled by bio-mass stored in a small silo or cord wood logs.
  • The exterior siding could be hardi-plank, cedar or metal siding such as metal panels, corrugated metal, 12" ribbed siding. The concrete floor would be polished concrete with artistic flourishes involving scattered stones and objects thrown into the slab and polished over to yield exciting, uniquely memorable artful surprises.
  • Interior finishes would be simple, restrained such as using locally milled rough sawn lumber or if a more refined look is desired, finished hardwood standing and running trim of a contempoary nature. Door and kitchen hardware and pulls would be simple rubbed bronze. Paints would be no or low-Volatile Organice Compounds (VOC)
  • Appliances would be high performance energy star models to reduce energy use.
  • Lighting would be high-performance flourescent designer fixtures and a mix of LED lighting where sensible.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Samsung Reclaim & Sprint_Greening the Wireless Experience

Samsung is coming out with an innovative new ecologically inspired qwerty keyboard phone at a low price point. Of course it's green or ocean blue colored to inspire eco-friendly allegience and has striking styling along with it. The phones will be available through Sprint which is also offering some unique choices for consumers with it's wireless phone recycling programs, upgrading both new stores and retrofitting existing retail stores to align with LEED standards. A recent press release from Sprint details the phone release and their various sustainability efforts on a wide variety of fronts.

Sprint with Samsung is focusing on greening the wireless experience of using, maintaining, purchasing and recycling their phone products. This type of comprehensive program sets an example to other retailers in related products and services industries who are looking to be leaders and innovators while embracing green and ecologically postive values. Whether it's using the end product, interacting on a web-site or at a physcial store transmitting a consistent and committed message, it is vital to convince consumers of the integrity of the efforts while enriching the overall brand.

Apparently the retail store sustainbility upgrading and redesigns will begin to take effect in September of this year. It will be interesting how widely felt this conversion will be and what regions of the country will recieve these revamped more ecologically friendly stores. The press release outlined a fairly typical design approach of responding to LEED criteria by appropriately designing interior finishes, fixtures and equipment as well as shifting retail store operational behavior to align with these values. I wonder how different or similar these stores will be as compared to earlier ones?

What's inspired here is Sprint and Samsung's efforts are just yet another example of the traction of the green / sustainability movement in the retail consumer oriented sector. As design professionals we live and breath this way of thinking (hopefully every day) but these shifts in thinking underscore the penetration and carrying capacity of the green movement. National level retailers and service providers are taking notice and beginning to act accordingly. By embeding these goals directly into various core areas of their businesses through committed actions and programs, these two companies are leading the way for others to follow.

Their efforts offer a snapshot for other companies to examine how to express similar values outwardly to consumers. I'm sure these programs didn't develop overnight but likely took years of careful comprehensive building and planning to get where they are today. My question is how will this look in five or ten years? Will efforts like Sprint's be mere anomolies or evidence of an industry waking up to a responsibility and oppourtunity to do act proactively. In what ways will the bar be risen to incoporate even higher standards or expectations? What would they be? I don't know. In the meanwhile, I hope these efforts pay off for Sprint and Samsung.

Hey imagine dialing up on your fancy Sprint / Samsung Reclaim phone your GooglePower meter mentioned in the last post to monitor your home or businesses energy use on your regional "Smart Grid" while bicycling or walking to work, school or on errands. Wouldn't that be a vision!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Google's PowerMeter Gadget - Take Control of Your Energy Use

When Dan Reicher was lecturing at Yestermorrow School in Warren, VT a few weeks ago he shared with us details of the Google's new PowerMeter gadget, freely available online. It is in the pilot program phase working in coordination with select utility partners. The PowerMeter hooks up to your electrical service fuse box in your home via a small reader which apparently costs $150 or so. It allows homeowners or business owners to monitor energy use in real time wirelessly within the home or by mobile phone.
Doing so enables energy consumers to monitor their energy use behaviors, what kinds of spikes happen when appliances turn on and off. It helps you understand how much your TV, computer or various plugged in appliances cost you. Conversely it shows you what happens when you shift your behavior. As Dan said in the lecture with one of his slides, "If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it - Lord Kelvin"
This will be hopefully but one of many examples of collaborations between the energy industries and outside partners like Google. Similar to other viral, collaborative efforts perhaps behavior changing gadgets or add-ons will make a difference in our energy usage combined together with shifts to mainstream adoption of green building and energy efficiency practices.
There is strength in numbers. I just hope all of these efforts can reach a consensus of sorts on energy measurement integration standards so this is easy, transparent and effective. Not creation again of another set of closed or propietary systems which don't talk with each other all attempting to beat each other at the same energy use modification game. This also the kind of equipment which would be really cool for public and private buildings to have so building occupants, facility managers and the general public could see energy use on its own terms. It would be great for LEED buildings to be up on the Web hooked into the Google Gadget and kids could see how their Dorm building, classroom building etc. is doing and talk about it in class or work together in energy nerd conservation competitions to see who could reduce their energy use the most. In the process, kids and all involved would learn game changing behaviors to take into life beyond the campus, elementary, middle, or high school.
Gee whiz!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Sunday Poem

The sounds of the cello vibrate
loosening the chords of memory
bringing painful moments gingerly
to the open air

With gladness I greet them
finally able to see what I was missing
the darkness so obscured
the simple answers overlooked

Now what to do but to move on
with a knowing, tired smile
a warmer heart for sure
the music strenghthens dampened spirit

The dawn beckons with its light
here in the quiet darkness of night
oh, what to do but to write
bringing forth insights long dulled

Fingers on the bow poised for flight

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Social Media and Cultivating Relationships

Today, I am in a grateful mood. I am thankful for all of the dynamic and inspiring relationships with friends, family, co-workers and business associates over the years. It's really important to cultivate them over time. I will use a metaphor here which is a little obvious and blog related. Cultivating relationships is a life long journey. It's never complete nor fully realized. Especially now in these challenging times, sometimes all we have are these relationships and not much else. What's interesting is the word relationship means in one sense to relate to one another, or between entities or things, thus communicate. The ability to communicate and interact then is the glue which connects people, organizations into relationships, be they personal, business, philantrophic, or something in between.

From a marketing and business development view, relationships are essential. Where we would be without them? I find the need to cultivate and nurture relationships an essential part of daily life regardless of the area. Plus, with today's work culture our personal life is blending into our worklife and vice versa. It's unavoidable. I know I have a lot to learn about being in relationships, and often realize I have friends I haven't said hello to in years or the last six-months. Using social/professional media elements such as LinkedIN, Plaxo, Facebook or Twitter to stay in touch is very fruitful. One simple thing I really like is wishing people happy birtday when I remember to do it and say a quick hello usually via email. Our social media services are very good at telling us about birthdays. It's an easy step to take once a week and send well wishes to a handful of people you care about now. And, it has secondary benefits beyond the primary one of being in communication with one another, relating to each other. It shows you are present in someone's life so they know they can reach out to you, whether for personal, professional or other reasons.

So, cultivate those relationships today. They really matter!

(image is from a walk I took with my family near Southwest Harbor, ME in Acadia a few years ago)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Ten Faces of Innovation, Tom Kelley and IDEO

About a year ago I found this book. It was after I had read The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley, an earlier book published in 2001. The first book took me a year to finish. The Ten Faces of Innovation, published in 2005, took me a month. Tom Kelley wrote it over a period of many years while working within IDEO, a unique and transformative, multi-faceted internaltional design consultancy.

The book opens by reviewing how damaging the devil's advocate process or activity is to innovation and suggests offers alternatives to the dreaded devil's advocate. What I like about the book is it sketches Ten very useful character traits helpful, no essential, for innovation. The motivation for this is the fact no organization can rest on its laurels of past successes but keep aspiring to capture or embody innovative concepts or ideas or work processes which might propell their business forward. The ten faces are organized into three rich categories: Learning Personas, Organizing Personas, Building Personas.
  • LEARNING PERSONAS - Organizations need to constantly grow and develop their knowledge base and enrich their informational context to serve their customers, thus learning personas are super critical:
    The Anthropologist -
    The Experimenter -
    The Cross Pollinator -
  • ORGANIZAING PERSONAS - Individuals in organizations who like to pull together information, factors influencing a design or operational challenge and enjoy helping to orchestrate strategic and/or tactical interactions to achieve results and stay focused.
    The Collaborator -
    The Hurdler -
    The Director -
  • BUILDING PERSONAS - They pull together insights gained from the Learning Personas and Organizing Personas into a rich tapestry of experience in innovative combination together and unlikely, unique value added outcomes.
    The Experience Architect -
    The Set Designer -
    The Storyteller -
    The Caregiver -
Innovation is a collective, collaborative activity. The character traits or personas identified in the book taken independently, while still valuable, are no match for their power in combination together. Think about your work teams and your role(s). You wear many hats over the course of an average work week don't you? Tom Kelley renames the hats we wear. The personas are poignant descriptors of activities essential to building innovative processes within your workplace. What would happen if you read together this book as a team, discussed the various personas together and reflected on your work process together and asked how could it be redesigned or incorporate these ideas. You might quickly identify yourself with a number of the personas, but also realize you are a collection of personas which at various times rise to the surface to meet a specific need. It really helps to see the proverbial hats you wear through these characterizations. So often we try to be everything to everyone. The next time someone speaks up in a meeting and says, "Let me be the devil's advocate here", you'll have a shared background together and say, "Hey, rather than trying to burst the bubble on the idea right now, let's look at this like we're an anthropologist, or experimenter and try this out for a bit in conversation and see where it goes, it might lead someplace unexpected for us."

Fact finding / Data Collection Activities
Brainstorming / Design Charettes
Strategic Development Meetings
Connecting Values & Brand Inseperably
Workplace Design and Interaction Between Work groups
Product & Services Development
Enriching Your Customer Experience
Public Relations and Marketing your Business and Your Story (I really like that)
The book's website has reader stories sharing how the book influenced their worklife. It's really provacative reading to see how the book inspired other readers interested in further developing their worklife design strategies and work culture.

Transform your creative practice by exploring ideas such as one's in this book. Add value to the clients or customers you serve by growing your abilities to think strategically about their needs, how they operate and how they could be better, much better, perhaps even astound and amaze in the arena they operate. Explore and expand your strategic thinking abilities and alternate ways to see the big picture while knowing how to dig deep and really understand what motivates your customer, their stakeholders and move things forward. Most of all enjoy the process of trying new things and learning from what works and what does not!