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Modern + Green Gaia Napa Valley Hotel – LEED Gold


There’s just one thing that I can’t figure out: why aren’t more hotels going green?  Recently, I blogged about Starwood Hotels creating a luxury, green hotel brand (and there’s also the LEED-certified Orchard Garden), but why aren’t all the other hotels going green?  I have two thoughts:  (1) post-9/11, hotels tanked and lost a lot of money, which they’ve really started to regain from 2004 until now…they’re busy making money and don’t want to shut the place down with expensive renovations; (2) the split between ownership and management leaves a decision making gap that prevents the hotel owner from undergoing large capital improvements; or (3) hotel owners are marketing their portfolios and green (the non-monetary kind) is the last thing on their minds.  But if you ask me, the hotel industry is so levered to energy costs that it’s the only way to go.  Looks like Gaia Napa Valley Hotel agrees with me. 

Gaia is chasing LEED Gold (couldn’t find it in the USGBC certification or registration directory), which is the second highest tier in the green building rating system.  Here are some of its green features:  chemical-free landscaping; energy-efficient heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning system using 15% less energy; various water conservation features; solar panels; zero-chlorofluorocarbon cooling system; 100% new growth-certified wood; specialty zero energy lighting throughout the hotel and public areas; and low emission paints and adhesives. 

The hotel incorporates extensive use of Solatubes.  These are tubular skylights that capture sunlight from the roof and direct it into the interior space through a diffusion shaft.  Imagine a periscope, except that it filters in light, not images.

Another thing I’d like to point out, is that this hotel is modern + green.  Innovation has advanced to the point that green looks good.  Plus, if you look at the first costs and the operating costs, in comparison to a non-green building, you’re getting a great deal, so it’s economic too.  Really, there’s not other way to go, especially in the hotel industry!

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Skyscraper Sunday: LEED-Certified Maple Leaf Square in Toronto

Maple_leaf_rendering Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Limited (privately-held corporation with ownership of Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors, Toronto Marlies Hockey Club, Air Canada Centre, and Leafs TV + Raptors NBA TV) is behind an innovative, forward-looking project development called Maple Leaf Square.  Being inspired by the mixed-use projects developing around sports franchise centers such as Dallas and Miami, the Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Corporation will be unique in one significant aspect:  it’s green, LEED-certified, that is.  The project, designed by KPMB and Page + Steele, contains two aspiring towers (54 + 50 floors) built on top of a seven story podium, all including the following:  900 residential condominiums, boutique hotel with about 170 rooms, 6,000 square foot daycare, over 200,000 square feet of office space , indoor/outdoor swimming pools, fitness facilities, and high-technology restaurants, sports bars, and retail stores.  It’s the quintessential multi-use development of the future, blending sports, entertainment, living, vacationing, night life, and work. 

Green Features:
In addition to being one of the most technologically advanced building structures in the world, the project contains some important green features (note, technology also can make a building green):  green roof, energy-efficient appliances in every suite, Enwave (low cost, energy efficient supplier of heating, cooling, and domestic hot water supply), individual storage/bicycle lockers, and close proximity to Toronto’s PATH system.  Technologically, the building will use RFID door locks and Intelligent Building Technology (visit the website for a demonstration).

The project has been welcomed with open arms by the public; reports vary, but the Residences of Maple Leaf Square are reportedly 95% sold already.  Talk about unmet demand for a modern, green structure!  Available residences range in size from 400 – 2,100 square feet and price from $200,000 – $1,400,000.  North Tower opens in October 2009 and South Tower in March 2010.  Found by EarthChangeII.

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Wind Power Cards Available at Whole Foods Market


I first heard that Whole Foods was going to be selling a Wind Power Card ($15 family – 750 kWh + $5 individual – 250 kWh) from eco-entrepreneur Shea, a co-founder of Renewable Choice Energy (the provider of the Wind Power Card).  What did I do?  I went a bought a $15 card to offset my blog.  I love Typepad, but they determine my hosting situation and I can’t change that, so I wanted to offset my blog’s impact.  I’m not sure how long this will last, but that’s okay because I’ll find out eventually.  The big question is, however:  Should you buy a card?  The bloggers at boingboing equivocated, but everyone else in the country seems to think it’s a good thing.  I’ll explain what I know, but I hope you’ll continue to research the issue of offsets and wind energy credits, if you have an interest. 

First, if you want to power your home with renewable energy, you can do a few things:  green build your home, install solar panels, put a wind turbine in your backyard, use energy-efficient appliances, etc.  After you reduce your own reliance on the grid in these ways (aka, minimize your own environmental footprint), you have a few more options:  (1) you could buy electricity from an eco-conscious company, like Green Mountain Energy, that feeds clean energy into the distribution grids, or (2) you could buy electricity from your regular company and purchase renewable energy credits in amounts that offset your energy usage.  There are slight differences with each choice.  Importantly, whenever energy producers create energy, it is routed into the regional/national grid, and that grid distributes the power to individual homes.  As a result, the energy grid conducts various types of energy such as coal (primarily), solar, wind, water, biomass, natural gas, geothermal, etc.  Depending on your location, you will receive a concoction of energy from all these types of sources, but the national average concoction = Coal – 52%, Nuclear – 20%, Natural Gas – 16%, Large Hydroelectric – 7%, Oil – 3%, and Renewables – 2%. 

With wind energy credits, and more particularly, the Wind Power Card, you’re not reducing or affecting the electricity bill that comes in the mail each month.  What you do is ensure that the electricity you use is replaced onto the national power grid with wind energy.  Every time you buy renewable energy credits, less non-renewable energy is fed into the grid.  This concept is hard to grock, but it’s true.  Think of this, though:  you’re paying a premium, but if you have money to do this, why not support clean energy generation and pay for renewable energy credits?  We can’t neglect the negative externalities (those that aren’t reflective in pricing) of dirty energy such as coal.  Our energy decision will increasingly impact the way we live in the future. 

Extra Links:
A Closer Look at Whole Foods Wind Power Card Displays [Sustainablog]
Boing Boing Mischaracterizes Wind Credits, WF Wind Cards [Sustainablog]
Support for Wind Power Picking Up Speed [Nurenberg – CNN]
American Wind Energy Association on Renewable Energy Credits []
Renewable Energy Credits + Offsets Certification [Texas PUCT]


Bill McDonough's Mixed-Use, LEED Greenbridge Developments


You’ve heard of William "Bill" McDonough: "Hero for the Planet."  He’s co-author of the wildly popular Cradle to Cradle book and co-founder of the product and process design firm MBDC, which is behind the Cradle to Cradle Certification (C2C) process.  Most recently, the November 2006 issue of Business 2.0 included an article about his sustainable building projects around the world.  McDonough is an architect and the designer of the incredible Greenbridge Developments in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  Developers expect to break ground on the project in June 2006 and it will be complete two years later (Spring 2009).  Greenbridge will be the first mixed-use project in North Carolina to achieve LEED certification. 

There will be about 100 residential units in two buildings (7 + 10 stories each), 25,000 square feet of retail space, and 15,000 square feet of office space.  The units include studio – three bedroom offerings ranging from 600 – 2,400 square feet.  As for pricing, we’re talking about $225,000 – 1.2 M.  This development promises to keep in line with sustainable principles boasting amenities such as green roofing and courtyard gardens, solar panels, an urban-style market selling local + organic foods, and a wellness center offering holistic medicine, acupuncture, and massage therapies.  Greenbridge is already 40% sold and is accepting reservations. 

What’s important, however, is that this development is another example of where real estate development for the future should be heading.  Cities are full of buildings that need to be renovated and retrofitted to be more efficient, use less energy, and waste less resources.  These new LEED developments will lead the way in showing other developers that green building has substantial economic + societal benefits.  See also The Daily Tar Heel.

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Trend Analysis: When Remodeling, Green > Luxury

Green_remodeling Whether you’re a real estate developer, owner, seller, broker, agent, speculator, investor, enthusiast, or whatever, there’s a trend that is important to grasp.  I read news of a survey that illustrates the trend.  Here’s what it said:  Over 50% of homeowners would like to make improvements to their homes and given a choice of improvements, homeowners would opt for the eco-friendly improvements.  Even when luxury upgrades are available.  This was the scenario in a survey performed by Wells Fargo:  Select among nine home improvement choices, if you were given $50,000: 

  1. 24% Nation/24% West Coast = Solar panels, energy-efficient windows + appliances
  2. 12% Nation/14% West Coast = Gourmet kitchen
  3. 11% Nation/11% West Coast = Luxury bedroom suite or master bathroom

Basically, when it comes to remodeling, everyone is taking the green road.  These statistics show what features people will come to demand in their homes and properties.  Application?  If you’re a developer, go for the energy-efficient windows, stock the place with the right appliances, and get each home solar ready.  If you’re a homeowner, go green before you go luxury.  Via residential architect.  Image via

Green Prefab: The Vital House by Ulterior Mode

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If you’ve heard of the Husten-Haskin house (mentioned in NYTimes + SF Chronicle), then you’ve heard of the architect behind the the Vital House prefab:  Erin Vali of Ulterior Mode.  The Vital House is designed to be both economical (1,500 sq-ft. at $300,000) and eco-friendly.  Practically speaking, the firm is Brooklyn-based, so this prefab design will serve the east coast, at least in the near short-term, but this four-bedroom model was designed to adapt to virtually any location.  The prefab utilizes solar-power and passive heating during the winter (with double-height walls on the south + east orientation).  It also has water-filled tanks placed on the south + east spaces, which absorb radiant energy and distribute it through the house.  Interestingly, construction is raised slightly off the ground, which accommodates both flat and sloped land sites.  Another benefit of raised construction is that wind + air can cool the home.  Some of the other specifics on the Vital House are still in flux, but I think this is a good start.

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