Ullr Fest, named for the Norse mythical god of snow Ullr,  is currently invading the streets of Breckenridge this week. The festivities began on Sunday and will conclude this Saturday, January 14th, with the Breck Chilly Chili Cook Off. Come out and celebrate Ullr Fest all week and make sure you don’t miss the Ullr Parade on North Main Street this Thursday starting at 4:30pm. There will be a lot of Viking hats for sure!



With over 12,000 attendees expected this week to honor the god of winter, Breckenridge will be the place to be! Winter in Breckenridge wouldn’t be the same without this fun tradition!


Cities are now home to a majority of the world’s population and are on the front line in the battle against climate change.  While action at the federal level in the U.S. has been painfully slow, cities in the U.S. are starting to lead by example at a local level. Cities must take an active role in helping their constituents (starting with themselves of course) to mitigate their impact on climate change as well as begin investing in appropriate climate change adaptation solutions.

I felt that it was time to do some analysis on U.S. Cities which are positioning themselves to be leaders in climate capitalism. I have used proxies and a methodology for ranking the largest cities in the U.S. based on a range of factors including political commitment (as measured by number of commitments the city has made with the U.S. MayorsCarbon War Room Cities ChallengeClinton 40, and ICLEI membership), green buildings (LEED buildings per capita), university leadership (AASHE membership/capita), transit access and use (range of metrics on heavy and light rail usage per capita), clean tech investment (venture funds based in city with clean tech investments in 2010) and energy and GHG emissions (from a range of sources)*.

The Top 10 Metropolitan Climate-Ready Cities in the U.S. are:

10.) Chicago

My recent rankings of low-carbon politicians was in part a tribute to the recently retired former mayor of Chicago, Richard Daley.  Under his leadership Chicago made major strides in becoming probably the greenest metropolitan city in the Midwest.  Chicago now boasts more than 300 miles of bikeways, 7 million square feet of green roofs and currently has more green hotels than any city in the U.S. (13).

9.) San Jose
This may be among the most surprising cities to make the Top 10 as San Jose is not known (yet) for its leadership in climate protection.  However, in 2007, the San Jose city council approved a Green Vision which seeks to “transform San Jose into the world center of Clean Technology innovation” and to demonstrate that the goals of economic growth, environmental stewardship and fiscal responsibility are inextricably linked.”  It didn’t hurt San Jose in my rankings that I counted the number of clean tech funds in each city that invested in 2010. Of course being near the epicenter of Silicon Valley San Jose ranked #1 in our list in this category.  Also you gotta love cities that take the bold step of setting big hairy audacious goals and transparently track their performance against them.

7.) Philadelphia (tie with New York)
Like San Jose, Philadelphia has taken the appropriate step to develop, track and transparently report its sustainability performance against forward looking targets.  Greenworks Philadelphia established 15 sustainability targets including energy, buildings, GHG reductions, waste, transit and agriculture among others.  Along with Seattle and New York, Philadelphia was listed by Fast Company, as a leading city in the U.S. for its aggressive GHG reduction targets.

7.) New York (tie with Philadelphia)
Conservative Mayor Bloomberg is a strong advocate for climate leadership and, once again, advocating setting targets and tracking performance. In a recent Clinton 40 Climate meeting, Mayor Bloomberg noted: “If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it.”  New York of course is the envy of most cities in the U.S. when it comes to accessibility and use of rail transit (ranking #1 on transit/capita in this study). It is also the most dense city in North America.

6.) San Diego
Another West Coast city less commonly ranked amongst the top 10 on these lists, San Diego has been making great strides in transitioning to a low-carbon economy.  San Diego intends to take advantage of its great climate and abundant sun by adding 50 megawatts of renewable energy by 2013 (much of it being new solar capacity) while achieving a 50 megawatt reduction in energy use through efficiency and demand side management measures.  San Diego also has a 3-line, 82 kilometers light rail trolley system which has 90,000 daily trips.

5.) Denver
One of the U.S. cities I have had the pleasure to live in, Denver Colorado is famous for its mountain views and big skies.  Denver has made great strides over the past 10 years towards becoming a recognized U.S. leader in the transition to a low carbon economy.  In 2009, former Denver Mayor Hickenlooper was awarded the US Mayor’s Climate Protection Award for Denver’s Fast Track light rail program.  According to a city press release, Denver’s Fast Track “is the most ambitious transit initiative in U.S. history… building 119 miles of new light rail” within just a few years.  Along with strong sustainability objectives, Denver is projecting a 37% increase in job growth by 2030, showing that the low carbon economy is alive and well.

4.) Washington, DC
While our federal law makers and senior political leadership based in Washington have seriously underachieved with respect to progress towards the low-carbon economy, the City, or District I should say, has earned this top 5 position.  Staying on the topic of public transit, DC residents are the 2nd most active users of rail transit in the U.S. and the 3rd highest per capita (behind New York and San Francisco).  The D.C. government has committed to reduce its emissions 30% by 2020 and 80% by 2050 (over 2006 levels), has passed a strong green building code, is 2nd in the country in green roofs (behind Chicago) and is 3rd in the nation in purchase of renewable power.

3.) Portland (OR)
The perennial favorite in all sustainable city rankings, Portland has many admirable features that demonstrate a commitment to the low-carbon economy.  I have been to Portland dozens of times and I can’t get enough of it.  For a relatively small city, it has an impressive public transit system, several (4) universities actively committed to sustainability and an amazing number of LEED certified buildings (127).  With so much going on for them, it is no wonder Portland aims to be “the most sustainable city in the world by investing in high performance buildings and green streets, ecosystem restoration, businesses that create sustainable economic opportunities for all, green and healthy affordable housing, and social equity policies and practices.”

2.) Seattle
Seattle, another Pacific Northwest city used to being on sustainability city rankings, usually behind Portland, occupies second place in this ranking.  Former Mayor Greg Nickels actually launched the U.S. Mayors for Climate Protection (which earned Seattle an extra point in my system).  The Seattle area has 6 universities committed to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) and is home to the Bainbridge Graduate Institute one of the first and best MBA programs in the world dedicated exclusively to sustainability education.  Seattle has among the most LEED certified buildings in the U.S. (132), has an active clean tech investing sector, and is home to the country’s first major utility to become carbon neutral.

1.) San Francisco
Where do I start?  I believe it all starts with political leadership and commitment. San Francisco is one of only three cities which made the final screening who are members of the U.S. Mayors for Climate Protection, Clinton 40, the Carbon War Room and ICLEI.  Like Seattle, it has a very proactive university community with 11 members of AASHE and is also home to Presidio Graduate School, another one of the first and best dedicated sustainable MBA programs in the world.  San Francisco also has the largest number of LEED certified buildings per capita in the U.S. and has an active clean tech investment community. It is home to probably the largest impact investment conference in the world, SOCAP.   San Francisco ranked in the top 3 in every category I evaluated and deserves to be crowned the “coolest” Climate-Ready City in the U.S. for 2011.

Here are the breakdowns of the ratings on each category for the top 10 cities.

Political Commitment (1-4 points) University Rankings Transit Rankings Investment Rankings Green Building Rankings GHG Rankings Cumulative Rankings
San Francisco, CA 4 1 2 3 1 1 1
Seattle, WA 4 3 3 3 3 3 2
Portland, OR 3 2 6 None 2 2 3
Washington, DC 4 8 3 5 5 8 4
Denver, CO 2 5 8 None 4 4 5
San Diego, CA 3 4 7 None 6 6 6
New York, NY 2 9 1 2 10 5 7
Philadelphia, PA 3 7 4 6 9 7 7
San Jose, CA 4 10 10 1 8 9 9
Chicago, IL 2 6 5 None 7 10 10


In a previous post I highlighted some of the politically elected leaders, conservative and liberal, who have been taking bold measures to transition their countries and communities towards a low-carbon future.  Some of my top 10 included previous and current U.S. Mayors who are active in theU.S. Mayors for Climate Protection initiative.  This is a group of mayors which now number more than 1,000 who have committed their cities to be leaders in the “war” on climate change as my friends at the Carbon War Room would say.

What is most important about this quest is that if we refocus our efforts on the right solutions soon enough, we can mitigate the worst of climate change while actually improving our city economies and growing corporate profits.  Hunter Lovins and I recently published a book entitled Climate Capitalism to share stories of cities and companies around the world who are profiting from that transition to the low carbon economy.

Just last week, the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) announced the launch of its CDP for Cities Program.  At the launch, London’s Mayor Johnson commented: “Cities are firmly at the vanguard of the global charge to deliver large scale carbon reductions and energy efficiencies. In seeking to set the pace and work together, cities have immense clout to stimulate low carbon world markets to unleash economic opportunities for their citizens.”

*No ranking is perfect and I hope to improve on this in coming years and also to do separate rankings for small and medium sized cities.  Of course it would be ideal to find or to generate standardized baseline GHG emissions for each city which hopefully the CDP for Cities will eventually generate.  Also ICLEI and the C40 just announced plans to create a city-based global standard for reporting GHG emissions which should make comparisons in the future much easier.

Please provide us comments on our rankings including suggestions for cities not ranked or new variables we should include for the next iteration.

Source: Triplepundit.com

Boyd Cohen is the CEO of CO2 IMPACT, a carbon origination company based in Vancouver, Canada and Bogota, Colombia. Boyd is also the co-author of Climate Capitalism: Capitalism in the Age of Climate Change.

Heat your home by throwing a dinner party?

This concept may sound bizarre, but it’s feasible in cutting-edge green homes that are so well-insulated, they don’t need a furnace or boiler. They’ll stay warm simply with body heat. A hairdryer might also suffice.

By H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY

“It’s like living in a glass thermos,” says John Eckfeldt, a physician who built one of these “passive” homes in frigid Isabella, Minn. He says the inside temperature is so even that if he sees snow falling, he’s surprised to realize it must be cold outside.

By Elliott Kaufman

The passive house movement, popularized in Europe, where thousands of such homes have been built, is starting to catch on in the United States as consumers look to lower their utility bills. These homes don’t require pricey solar panels or wind turbines but focus on old-fashioned building science to reduce energy use by up to 90% less energy.

Courtesy of Nancy Schultz

They’re different from the “passive solar” homes of the 1970s, which used a lot of south-facing windows for heating, because they emphasize other features: thick walls and roofs (often at least a foot) and triple-paned windows, as well as efficient appliances and lighting. The secret is tightness, achieved via superior insulation and air sealing. A mechanical system brings in fresh air, heating or cooling it as needed.

Few U.S. homes, only a dozen so far, have obtained certification from the Passive House Institute US, a private Illinois-based group that bases its rules on the German Passivhaus standard.

Yet, dozens of homes nationwide are now being designed to meet its strict energy efficiency requirements.

“It’s growing exponentially,” says Tom DiGiovanni, who heads the Passive House Alliance, a group established last year to promote the standard. He says more than 400 people are now trained as passive house consultants, up from 20 two years ago.

“It feels like we’re almost at a tipping point,” he says, citing factors such as high energy prices and the Obama administration’s push for energy efficiency. “It’s like the perfect storm.”

Proponents say the passive standard’s prime tenets — insulation and air sealing — can also be used by owners of existing homes to boost energy efficiency.

“It holds great promise for this country,” says Alex Wilson, executive editor of Environmental Building News. He says the needed materials, especially windows, are becoming more affordable, and building codes are demanding greater efficiency.

“It could be mainstream five years from now,” says Nate Kredich of the private U.S. Green Building Council, which has its own green rating system. He says its popularity may depend on whether production builders jump on board and prices fall.

How much more?
Passive homes cost 6% to 12% more than other new homes, but they recoup that premium in lower utility bills in seven to 12 years, DiGiovanni says.

“The biggest extra cost is the windows,” he says, noting that U.S. companies have only recently begun making triple-pane windows, so some builders had to import them. California-based Serious Materials makes ultra-efficient dual-pane windows that several U.S. passive homes have used.

Still, he says passive homes can be built on a budget, especially in multi-unit buildings. He says several affordable housing projects, including a 48-unit site in Urbana, Ill., are underway.

“It’s innately reasonable,” says architect David Peabody, who designed the first passive house in the Washington, D.C., area. He says the extra cost was about 8%, but the annual utility bills for the 4,200-square-foot home are projected at less than $750. U.S. households spent an average of $2,639 on energy costs for homes that size in 2005, the most recent year for which U.S. government data are available.

In Lafayette, La., architecture professor Corey Saft estimates his solar-equipped passive home cost about 10% more than a regular new home. He built it for $110 per square foot, which he says is inexpensive for a custom home. Census Bureau data indicate new homes in the South — many by production builders — sold for an average of $76.77 per square foot in 2009.

“It’s the most cost-effective way of accomplishing the least energy use,” says architect Dennis Wedlick, who designed New York state’s first passive house. He says there was no premium for his Hudson Valley project, because he used Serious’ U.S.-made windows and offset the cost of extra insulation by using a tiny, inexpensive ductless heating and air conditioning system.

Yet, Wedlick sees potential obstacles. “It could take a long time to get certified,” he says, adding the program is being thoroughly developed but still lacks the staff to handle the booming demand.

Certification can cost several thousand dollars. The Institute charges about $1,000 to review an application for a 2,000-square-foot home, but that doesn’t include the cost of hiring a consultant to advise on design and an independent auditor to verify the home’s efficiency.

Looks count, too

Another challenge could be aesthetics. Most U.S. passive homes have limited windows and a boxy shape, which is the easiest geometry to keep insulated and highly energy efficient.

Homes with curves and larger footprints require extra insulation and sealing that add to the cost. Eckfeldt says his stylish passive home, with huge curved windows and upscale finishes, cost $450 per square foot.

Just how tough is the standard? John Semmelhack, a passive house consultant in Charlottesville, Va., reviewed one home designed to earn the top rating from the U.S. Green Building Council and determined it wouldn’t qualify as a passive house for several reasons: It has too many windows; the windows don’t absorb enough solar heat; and the L-shaped, courtyard house isn’t a simple cube.

“The hardest type of house to meet the passive standard is a small detached single-family home,” says Semmelhack, adding it’s easier to meet it with larger commercial spaces, schools or — as is commonly the case in Germany — apartment buildings. He advised on how to get a school in Charlottesville certified; two other U.S. schools have already passed the test.

Climate could also be a challenge for the passive standard.

“It favors a (temperate) climate like Germany’s,” says Kevin Morrow of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). He says U.S. weather is much more diverse — some tropical, some Arctic and some a mixture of both.

Exacting requirements

Regardless of location, passive homes cannot have a heating or cooling load above 4,755 British thermal units per square foot, which is about one-tenth that of homes built to current U.S. codes. They must also be virtually airtight, which requires meticulous sealing of ducts, joints and hairline cracks.

“You can’t greenwash this. You have to be a terrific builder to do this,” Wedlick says.

To avoid overheating in warm areas, passive homes need exterior shading, ventilation and a cooling system, says German-born architect Katrin Klingenberg. She built her own home in Urbana to the Passivhaus standard in 2002 and opened the U.S. institute in 2008.

“It’s basic building science, but it’s taken to a high level,” says Morrow, adding that NAHB may incorporate passive home rules into its own green building standard.

Kredich says the U.S. Green Building Council may do the same.

Unlike those programs, which also rate homes for water conservation, renewable building materials and other aspects of green building, the passive standard looks only at energy efficiency.

The U.S. Department of Energy did some of the original research on it decades ago, but with energy prices lower in the U.S. than Europe, the standard didn’t take off until German physicist Wolfgang Feist founded the Passivhaus Institute in Darmstadt, Germany, in 1996.

One of the standard’s benefits is that it makes it relatively easy for homes to become net zero energy, which means they produce as much power as they use, says David Johnston, author of Toward a Zero Energy Home. Because passive homes don’t use much energy, he says, a small solar energy system will often be enough to meet their needs.

Saft made his passive home net-zero by adding a three-kilowatt solar array.

So did Eckfeldt and his wife, architect Nancy Schultz, who designed their Isabella home, using photovoltaics to offset their energy needs.

Yet, they can survive even the worst of winter without any help from the sun or backup heating. In December 2009, their house’s boiler didn’t work for 10 cloudy days when they were out of town and outside temperatures dipped well below zero.

How cold did it get inside? The thermostat held at 51 degrees.

Published in USA Today: By Wendy Koch



As with everyone else in America, we’ve been glued to our TVs this past week watching the outcome of the horrifying earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The devastation is incomprehensible and almost half a million people have lost their homes.

This is especially relevant for the sustainable building industry as Japan has long been recognized as a leader in sustainable building and energy efficient design. Sustainable design in Japan is accredited through the Comprehensive Assessment System for Built Environment Efficiency (CASBEE) which can be loosely compared to the USA’s LEED program, and has been in place for more than 10 years, leading to dramatic improvements in sustainable design.

Some of the most amazing “green” buildings in the world are in Japan, including the ACROS Fukuoka in Fukuoka City – a building which on three sides is a conventional office tower, with the fourth side being a tiered green roof that reduces energy consumption and keeps the temperature normalized for tenants. It also harvests rainwater for building use, and (almost incidentally) provides a lush greenspace for city residents reminiscent of NYC’s Central Park.

It’s too early yet to plan rebuilding, while Japan is in crisis and coordinating rescue efforts, but the cost to rebuild has already been estimated in the billions. For a country that’s so dependent on importing resources, it will be a long and difficult process to rebuild all the homes that have been lost, but with the strong leadership of the CASBEE organization and a focus on reducing energy consumption across the country, I think we’ll see a lot more sustainable homes and businesses being built in the next 10 years… all for a cleaner, more healthy Japan in the future.

P.S. Our hearts go out to the citizens of Japan. If you haven’t already, please consider donating to the American Red Cross to help with emergency efforts by clicking here.

Source: Green Horizon

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