Can we use this to save the planet?

As a parent, I’ve known for a long time that the most effective way to get a child to do what you want them to do is to clearly state what you do want them to do and avoid telling what you don’t want them to do, eg; “walk on the footpath”, rather than “don’t walk on the road”.

It’s a bit similar to an article I was linked to today which described how people like to do what other people are doing and are strongly influenced by the way messages are expressed, in particular

… people were actually more likely to steal wood from the forest when they saw the sign telling them how many people tend to do it themselves, even though the very next sentence was asking them to refrain. But when the researchers simply tweaked the message to read that “the vast majority of past visitors have left the petrified wood in the park, helping to preserve the natural state of the Petrified Forest,” the thievery plummeted.

We don’t really care so much about what we should do. We care about what other people do. And then we really, really care about not being different.

It’s a shame really. I hate telling people that “all the cool kids are doing it”,  but that’s human nature and it’s how we got improved water efficiency during the long drought and 14% of homes with solar panels and increases in cycling commuter numbers.

<Sigh>, but I’ll use it when I’m describing possible sustainability measures in a building to a client, if it means that I can do my bit to save the planet.

XKCD bridge comic

Change in work style/practice

Yesterday I spent some time catching up on Twitter (what else do you do when you’re feeling sick and tired with a horrid head cold?) and found a friend’s suggestion of toggl.

It’s a timer tool and let’s me keep track of work, projects and tags.  I’ve been meaning to do something like this for a while – I need a 4 week diary to claim home office expenses, and my big project has the potential to eat my life if I let it (it may also get ignored for too long at a time).  I’m also interested to know how much time I’m spending on that project – I think I have a bit of imposter syndrome with it and I’m underestimating what I’m really doing and playing it down when I talk to people.

Anyway, I seem to work in bigger chunks when I’m timing myself and I’m more decisive about when I’m taking a break and for how long, despite feeling a bit miserable with this cold.  Let’s see how long it lasts…

Open plan offices

I’ve been confused by a bunch of articles my friends have been quoting, which talk about how bad open plan work spaces are for productivity, and haven’t really understood their problem.

I really love the noises that people in a group make.  As a 4 year old I regularly fell asleep to the sounds of meetings in our loungeroom and I have enjoyed working at the swimming pool and in cafes and in the babble of the Hub. But then I realised; In all of these open plan, busy space I don’t have to worry about being interrupted, and what people are saying is very unlikely to relate to something that I’m working on.  My well being isn’t on the line here and I’m not going to miss something important if I tune out to my surroundings.

I think open plan will work in a work culture where people are supported and comfortable and in control of their surroundings.  But, as seems usual, if you stress people they won’t be happy and their productivity will be poor. You can blame it on the interruptions and noise if you like, but I”m not convinced.

So I’ll keep working at Elsie and Betty, in the cafe opposite Kathmandu, at Hub Melbourne (when the price is right), at the Village, and also, in bed and in front of the heater at home.

Weeding

A long time ago I set up a wiki for the company I was working for.  We used it to record our processes and included links to the documents we used every day.  It was really handy for Green Star references, but we also had a couple of fun pages including reviews of good lunch spots.

It was while working on the wiki that I learned to call the minor updates and tweaks to a website, “weeding”.  They’re really important to keep things organised, fresh and useful.

Today I finally got to some of the weeding that’s needed doing around here.  I’ve updated my NABERS page and the “free” NABERS assessments pages to include the revised NABERS Admin fees for Cityswitch signatories.  It’s a bit sad,  NABERS have decided to charge small tenants for their assessments and it won’t be as easy to persuade small tenants to let me give them a free energy assessment. Also, I quite like meeting new people and seeing the different ways people and their buildings work.  You have until 1 July 2014 to get it all organised at the old (free) rate for tenancies under 1000m2.

On the other hand, I’ve been pretty focused on Kathmandu and their Green Star Interiors PILOT rating for the last few months and I would prefer to be using my fabulous Green Star knowledge and experience on that and other great projects. 🙂

 

Save the environment! Clean ponds!

It started so well, “Helping the environment needs a realistic approach”.  That seems like a really sensible aim.

It went on to talk about the ACT government plans for renewable energy – 90% renewable energy by 2020 and 40% emissions reductions.  Again, I say woot! somebody is taking this energy thing seriously.

And then she said that the new solar farm is so woefully inadequate and building more farms such an unrealistic pathway that the only solution will be to have the electorate pay unreasonably high premiums to import green power from interstate.  Certainly, just relying on solar farms might not achieve the target – but the emissions target included in the plan will certainly help. [1]

But I started laughing when her suggestions of “better, more achievable and practical pathways” were ” planting trees or keeping local ponds clean and viable”.

Read it and laugh for yourself here.

[1] A number of years ago I was really tempted by the solar PV panel deals that were available.  Then I looked at my electricity bill and thought that 17kWh/day was pretty high for our then family of five and would make the panels just a drop in the ocean.  I did an energy audit and reduced our consumption to 10kWh/day.  7kWh/day is a very good output from solar panels, but I didn’t have to install them. We had the same impact on the environment as installing PV panels might have done, but it saved me the cost of both the panels and the electricity.

 

Woot! That’s my project!

Kathmandu have finally announced to the world that they’ve signed up for Green Star and now I can tell you (with bonus fizzes of sparklers and fireworks) that I’m their ESD consultant.

It’s pretty exciting and has been for about 6 months as we did all the negotiating and client meetings getting them comfortable with the process and costs :).  Now we’re in the doing phase and I have my head deep in the submission guideline and setting up spreadsheets and project plans. Also learning heaps about retail projects.

I’m working on the project with Elsie + Betty and one of the nicest things has been arranging to spend one day a week working at an empty desk in their office.  When I’m here (mostly Tuesdays) we can talk about the project anytime, and I can be reminded of what it’s like to work in an office.  I love how productive I am sitting at a desk, and then I’m pleased to work at home again.

If you’re also working on the Green Star Interiors Pilot tool I’d be keen to share experiences and suggestions – contact me!

 

Bicycle Parking

This morning I lodged an objection to a planning application for a change of use to a gymnasium at my local shopping centre.  Wow!  The planning scheme only requires that the gym have 2 bike parking spaces for visitors and 2 for employees, even though the peak usage expects 50 patrons and 7 staff members.

The town planning report says that 50% of patrons are likely to live within 2km of the gym and the City of Yarra says that 80% of trips to work are by bicycle.  I think that means that about 20 bicycles will need parking for about an hour during the peak time.  And if they don’t, then the people attending the gym are dumb.

Here’s a photo I took of the local bike parking (council provided) at 6pm on a weeknight;full bike parking at the Hive

The 5 hoops are full, the nearby hoops are full and someone has locked their bike to a parking pole.  There’s no room for 4 more bikes, and especially not 20 more.

The stuff I couldn’t put into my letter, because it doesn’t obviously impact on me, is that I would hope that staff at a gym are even more likely to ride to work than the patrons.  What advice are consultants providing when they don’t include somewhere for gym junkies to park their expensive bikes?

It wouldn’t even be expensive or difficult to provide great bike parking for that gym.  There’s plenty of lovely secure space for bicycle parking in the foyer of the stairs to the gym.  Sillies!

When the shopping centre opened there was no bike parking provided and now there is none in the centre.  There doesn’t even seem to be employee parking.  But I’m sure the Yarra Planning scheme required them when the centre was built.  I guess this is another example of sustainability reports that don’t get followed through to construction.  What are we going to do about this?

 

 

 

Transport privilege

I’m procrastinating about a fee proposal, so have a blog post instead;

I live in the inner city.  I walk or ride a tricycle (my own) to do the local market and supermarket shopping (truthfully, my husband mostly does it).  I also ride the Food Know How tricycle between local cafes and the Collingwood Children’s Farm.  My daughter walks the 100m to school.  I can ride my bicycle to get almost anywhere and, around here, people of every socio-economic group can be seen riding their bicycles because that’s one of the easiest ways to get around.  When I’m feeling lazy and don’t feel like cycling I take the tram or the train into the city.

I live in a place where public transport, walking and cycling is easy (just as well, I’ll be car free in two weeks), and I have a very different view of life from people who live in places where the cars go fast and the distances to supermarkets, libraries and sports facilities are longer.

In my head, gyms, swimming pools and basketball courts serve locals who can walk or cycle there.  Schools, libraries and child care centres similarly.  Aged Care facilities should be staffed by locals.  Obviously, you would keep disabled parking spaces but how do you provide for people who don’t have disabled parking permits, but still need to use a car as a motorised mobility device? People like me when I was 7 months pregnant, or when I tore my calf muscle playing netball. I’ll keep thinking about that…

Anyway, this is just a long way of saying that it’s probably wrong of me to look at every project I work on and ask, “do we really need to include car parking?” and “What would we have to do to make that happen?”  I still do it though and then remind myself of my transport privilege and prejudice.

I will say though, that the child care centre in the heart of the City of Yarra (highest proportion of people who cycle to work in Australia) is a possible exception. I found it difficult to believe that the centre needed parking for so many cars – imagine how much more play space they could have had?  I certainly argued for generous bike parking, to accommodate all the ways people are carry children on their bikes these days.  And now, every time I walk past the site, I imagine working with the enrolling families to make sure that they don’t drive to get there – one way to deal with long waiting lists :-).

bakfiets to carry childrenBicycle trailer

What prejudices do you bring to your sustainability problem solving?

 

Personal sustainability and back breaking fun

One of the reasons I began working for myself is that a full time job with a consultancy didn’t give me the time to work on all of the interesting projects that are out there in the world.  I like what I do, but I want to do other things too.  Here’s what I did on my weekend.

Actually, it all started last summer. Or maybe 20 years ago…about twenty years ago I started reducing the number of things that go into my bin.  Each time I emptied it I took note of what was in there and tried to think about what I could do to reduce it.  For instance, I stopped using margarine because I was fed up with having so many  “useful” margarine containers.  I can put the paper butter wrapper into my compost.

Last summer, I realised that most of my waste was cans of tomato, so a friend and I got together and set ourselves up to make passata. It was a hard day’s work, but we’ve eaten 1-2 jars a week all year, and I don’t have to spend money to make pretty instant, fabulous  dinner AND there are fewer tins in my bin. The no money part has also been useful for this lean first year of business.

So this year, I’ve been thinking about how to get tomatoes.  And I have a friend with a backyard aquaponics setup that has been a bit neglected. Aquaponics is like hydroponics,  but the plant nutrients are provided by fish.  The water from the fish tank is pumped through the grow beds.  The plants and gravel clean the water for the fish, and the fish nutrients (aka poo) feed the plants.

So I started a project:  I’ve crowdfunded amongst my friends to get the greenhouse and fish production system going, some of us have been involved in working bees to do the work, and at the end of summer we should have 500kg of tomatoes and 100kg of fish. Also some greens and basil. I guess I’ll also have a much better idea of the practicalities of systems like the greenhouse on top of the supermarket.

This weekend we installed the cover on the greenhouse, collected and delivered the fish into the fish tank and weeded the grow beds.  See?fishytomatoes

With added bonus, kids preparing pots to grow seedlings. It was so hot in there, the kids soon lost interest and set up a beach party at the water outlet you can see in the background.  It was 10degrees outside – it works!

Serendipity

This morning as I got on the train to head to HubMelbourne‘s Coworking in the Lane, I met Ian Gardner of Wood and Grieve.  I’m so pleased. We only spoke for 3 stops but gee it was interesting.

He’s working on a building just around the corner from my house.  A building I watch and regularly fume at because they’ve left the lights on, again!  But they have a call centre on the top two floors – so it’s reasonable that they are operating then.  I’ll stop fuming about that.

I shouldn’t stop fuming about the poor design he also talked about.  That building was finished about 4 years ago, but its only 3 stars NABERS, despite being designed for 41/2 stars.  He described it as a building that was reasonably designed initially, but let down through the standard construction management process.  The facade looks promising, with good shading and reasonable glass – I guess we can thank BCA Section J for that.  But Ian says it’s very leaky and takes 2 hours at 100% to get the building warm on winter mornings.

Where does the council’s sustainable design assessment process fit with that – how do we make sure that the reasonably sustainable building that was designed, is the one that gets built?

Also, the mechanical services design is a VRF system.  It’s a pretty common low cost system and should be pretty good at managing the zoning in the building, to operate only when heating or cooling is needed in a particular zone.  But if you select a unit that’s too big you end up using a lot of fan power that isn’t necessary.

And here’s the bit that intrigued me.  Ian commented that the increased cost of refrigerants means that systems like this are unlikely to be installed in future.  On the other hand, I know that the governnment’s plan for the repeal of the carbon tax, has been discussed extensively on the Airah LinkedIn discussion group.  I wonder if that will change things again?  Based on the comments from others in the industry, they’re not keen to see the refrigerant issue go backwards – I hope they don’t.