Retune for life in the efficient lane
To prove his commitment to transforming development and transportation in the Valley, Kevin Kellogg sold his car. He lives and works in downtown Phoenix, so he uses his bicycle and the light rail system to get around. It’s all a part of his vision for the future: Growth by redeveloping, repurposing and building inward.
“We can grow entirely and dramatically by growing inward, and we could actually increase our vitality and economic prosperity in the Valley by doing that,” he says. “We’re tearing ourselves and the desert apart by spreading out.”
Kellogg, the urban laureate at ASU’s Stardust Center for Affordable Homes and the Family, is developing policies for cheaper, greener development. He’s also the principal of Kellogg and Associates, a sustainable architecture firm, and he’s been heading an effort aimed at developing the Valley’s communities without overturning another inch of desert.
The key to achieving his ultimate vision is Valley Metro light rail line.
A truly sustainable area, Kellogg says, could be built along the roughly 20-mile line, extending one mile in each direction from the tracks. In that area, he says, all of an individual’s needs could be comfortably in reach: work, food, education, health care, shopping, recreation and entertainment.
“My efforts are organized around this: How can we present an alternative growth model for metro Phoenix that isn’t about sprawl and freeways and poverty?” Kellogg says. “You can have people live an hour from town in what’s maybe an affordable house, but an unaffordable transportation system puts them all at risk. I’m working on, how do we put a million people sustainably, comfortably on the light rail line?”
Kellogg plans to reach his goal through two projects.
The first project is a collaboration he co-chairs called the Sustainable Communities Working Group. The group combines senior policy leaders from state departments, cities and banks to accumulate a $50 million fund to finance transit-oriented development. Kellogg says the group has raised $10 million in one year. By the end of this year, he expects the group will have raised an additional $20 million.
“The aim is affordable housing, as well as stuff like grocery stores and community clinics,” he says.
His second effort, Connecting Phoenix, operates on a grant from the Surdna Foundation in New York, which funds projects around the country that focus on revitalizing communities through sustainability, the arts and economics.
Kellogg says he’s working directly with the city of Phoenix to redevelop the areas immediately surrounding the city’s light rail stops. He plans on using what he calls “walkability” projects, which include widening sidewalks, increasing shade areas and lengthening timers for crosswalks.
“The idea is that once you’ve committed to something like getting rid of your car, you can walk to your house safely and comfortably after you get off the train,” Kellogg says. “It’s government reform, it’s urban design and it’s kind of reforming the sustainability footprint. It touches many avenues.”
On Greenwashing: “I think there’s a movement here, but there’s definitely greenwashing. I definitely think that when you’ve got houses being sold as ‘green’ and they’re 20 minutes from a grocery store, and you have to drive to get there…well, I don’t consider that to be green, whether there’s a solar panel in it or not.”
Sustainable existence starts with understanding, simple fixes
To get where you want to go, first you have to determine where you are. In his vision of crafting a more sustainable state, James Ball says it’s time for Arizona to do some serious self-evaluation.
“If you’re going to lose weight, you step on a scale to find out how much you weigh,” says Ball, sustainable building manager with Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona. “As we’re working toward a greener future, we’ve got to start measuring now. It’s not a mandate. It’s just finding out what we’re doing so we can start the conversation.”
Ball, who has worked for Central Arizona Habitat for three years, helped build one of the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum-certified, affordable-classified homes in the United States in Glendale in 2008. The U.S. Green Building Council developed the LEED rating system to judge the overall sustainability of structures. The system judges buildings on five factors including sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality to give a rating, from lowest to highest, of certified, silver, gold or platinum.
Along with effectively measuring where the state is with current sustainability efforts, Ball thinks Arizona should develop solar energy — a major component of nearly every LEED-certified project. He says efforts for individual homes can be simple, but most builders don’t give it a second thought.
“We should be tapping it and we’re not,” he says. “That doesn’t need to be big, expensive panels. It starts with which way the house faces. It starts with how long your window overhangs are. That’s still maximizing the use of the sun, and it doesn’t cost anything. It just requires understanding.”
Ball was first introduced to Habitat for Humanity while studying industrial design at the Pratt Institute in New York City. He did some volunteer work for Habitat, but left that behind after graduation as he set off to see the world. When he returned to the United States, he knew he wanted to give something back to the community. He looked for opportunities through AmeriCorps and eventually returned to Habitat for Humanity, armed with an education in architecture.
More than anything, Ball says, there needs to remain a continual flow of ideas about sustainability coursing through the minds of homeowners, builders and elected officials across the state. There’s no time for slowing down, Ball says, when Arizona has so much to catch up on.
“If you learn one thing about green, it’s that it’s a path of continual improvement,” Ball says. “If you think you’ve built the greenest home, you’re wrong. There’s always more to do. There’s always more that we’re working on, developing and trying to do better.”
On Greenwashing: “I think the term ‘green’ is greenwashing. It was probably written up by some clever marketing guy. Everyone hears green, they think of leaves, trees and then they get it: It’s about the environment. It’ll never be simple enough to put in a marketing catchphrase. For better or worse, our economy is driven by marketing power. We try to leverage that. LEED leverages that and I certify with LEED, so I support that.”
“But it’s a dangerous zone, because inevitably it’s cut to sound bites and one-liners.”
History and sustainability go ‘hand-in-hand’
For Tazmine Loomans, the principal architect behind Blooming Rock Development in Phoenix, preserving the city of Phoenix’s history and sustainability go hand-in-hand.
Loomans’ first project after starting her sustainable and community-oriented design firm two years ago was renovating an abandoned, foreclosed duplex in the neighborhood around Osborn Road and 16th Street in Phoenix. She and her husband bought the building, which was built in 1963, after hearing from nearby residents that it had been a problem and an eyesore for the neighborhood for some time.
“It wasn’t super desirable in terms of real estate,” Loomans says. “But it’s in an awesome family-oriented neighborhood.”
Loomans and her husband renovated the building, intent on preserving its ’60s vibe while implementing newer sustainability measures like installing motion-sensing water fixtures and minimizing the amount of material used in the renovation project. They removed the vinyl flooring and restored the original concrete floors, because concrete is good for indoor air quality, helps cool the building in the summer and is period-appropriate for a structure of that age. Similarly, they put up a clothesline instead of an electric dryer to save energy.
After renting the building out, Loomans says, the new residents have really latched onto the building’s “green” factor. They’ve embraced the clotheslines, and have even planted an edible garden on the property.
“They really get it, and they’re kind of our partners in that,” Loomans says. “And that’s the development aspect of Blooming Rock. It’s going into dilapidated, problem neighborhoods and revitalizing them.”
Loomans and her husband want to live in a vibrant, active and sustainable downtown Phoenix. Part of that, she says, is keeping the city’s cultural identity alive. To Loomans, Phoenix’s cultural identity lives within its older buildings. She says the connections between historical preservation, downtown revitalization and sustainability couldn’t be more clear.
“The greenest building is the one that already exists,” she says. “Tearing down buildings and building new ones just doesn’t make sense, because you’re using all this energy and these new materials to build new buildings when there’s one already there. And it makes sense to preserve these historic buildings, not just from a sustainability standpoint but also from a community standpoint.”
Loomans is an architect first and foremost, but she also does community outreach, education and writing about sustainable architecture and urban development. Her mission, she says, is to raise the public’s awareness to these subjects.
“Preserving history, maintaining affordability and sustainability,” she says. “It’s the triple bottom line.”
On Greenwashing: “It’s a real problem, because greenwashing is taking away from the actual differences people can make. I don’t know if it’s worse here than anywhere else. It comes from a desire to have a quick fix. For me, greenwashing isn’t just about lying about stuff, it’s about selling products, and in reality I think being green is changing your own lifestyle. Being green is not, for me, a commercial endeavor. It’s a fundamental perspective.”
Green education: Redirecting the waste stream
One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Jennifer Gale has made a career out of showing companies how to operate in a more sustainable manner — including suggesting better uses for their waste.
“We would actually look in the Dumpsters…I mean there are some odd things that end up in the waste stream. We’d look at anything from batteries to light bulbs to Saran Wrap being used. I had a sawdust audit one time,” says Gale, executive director of Keep Arizona Beautiful. “We would monitor what was going on for a certain amount of time, and based on that feedback we would either work with their existing trash hauler or find someone new to capture what was going to the landfill rather than the commodities market or recycling stream.”
She chose to work in conservation because it just seemed so easy to divert waste from landfills. Gale started with Keep Arizona Beautiful, a non-profit organization with a platform of eco-friendly education, litter prevention and community beautification, in November.
Since starting with KAZB, her focus has still been on connecting people with green efforts.
She coordinates the green efforts of cities, towns and nonprofit groups across the state. She applauds the work of smaller groups in Arizona, like Keep Phoenix Beautiful and Scottsdale Pride, but says the most effective change can be achieved through coordination of green projects statewide.
“Whether it’s through these nonprofit organizations that have similar purposes or cities that run programs like ours, we can tie them all together,” she says. “We can see where the crossovers are and see how we can work together to do some statewide efforts.”
This kind of effort from across the board, she says, will make an immediate difference in the state’s environmental quality. But litter clean-ups are only one of Gale’s immediate priorities. Education, she says, can stem littering behavior before it starts as well as imbue a sense of pride in Arizona’s natural beauty.
“We’re getting into the schools and talking with the kids and education staff to get environmentally friendly curriculum in front of people, so that they can fundamentally change how they’re behaving every day,” Gale says. “Making environmental education a priority will make a huge difference. It’s a ripple effect.”
While Keep Arizona Beautiful receives grants from national environmental groups, Gale says she’d like to get more local businesses involved in beautifying the state. There’s no shortage of landscaping and architectural firm participation, but Gale says that all businesses can be shown how environmentalism can help their bottom line.
“I really hope that non-environmental companies will step forward,” she says. “Whether you’re a law firm, an accountant or in real estate, it all ties together. The economics of it are black and white. Putting value back into the city through a tree, through greening projects, or beautification projects boosts property values.”
Gale ties it all back into her mission of coordinating the green organizations and efforts from around the state. Beautification is easy to do, she says, and it can come from anywhere: teachers in a classroom; corporations that organize employee litter clean-ups; or from something as routine as a donation.
“It can be the most simplistic act that’s considered green,” she says. “I think the participation can be there, it’s just a matter of sharing the facts with people.”
On Greenwashing: “I think the movement in Arizona to conquer sustainability challenges is very strong and vibrant, and being driven by talented, young professionals. We do have greenwashing here, though. I don’t think you can have one without the other. Even if there is greenwashing, it’s still helpful for the cause in itself because it still has people talking about doing sustainable behaviors and practices. Without greenwashing, we wouldn’t be having these types of dialogues and therefore bringing attention to the movement.”
For governments, green projects must work financially
For Jonce Walker, achieving sustainability requires consideration of three factors: people, profit and planet. People, and especially governments, can’t be expected to live more sustainably if it isn’t economically viable.
“You might do something that’s great for the environment and it might be great for the residents, but if it’s too expensive or doesn’t provide a good return on investment then you’re not going to do that,” says Walker, sustainability manager for Maricopa County. “Green doesn’t always focus on the economics, so it’s perceived as more expensive. But sustainability encompasses economics. All of the things we do for the Green Government Program have to make sense economically.”
Walker, who oversees the county’s Green Government Program, believes the best way to convince governments and residents to be more sustainable is by showing them how. “We just want to lead by example, quite frankly,” Walker says. “We want to be a national leader. Everyone should be sustainable. That’s what we’re trying to say: ‘The county is going to do it, so we hope you do it too.’”
Maricopa County’s Green Government Program provides a set of directives intended to steer county departments toward sustainable business practices. The initial list was released in June 2008 and included only a few measures that a handful of departments followed. A much-expanded second version including 144 measures launched in December and extends to all departments. The departments are responsible for implementing those changes toward “greener” operations in a given time period, Walker says.
Directives can be as broad as increasing paper recycling, or as nuanced as auditing energy use. County facilities management is responsible for reducing energy use in county buildings across the board. Departments using county vehicles are working to plan their trips better to reduce fuel consumption.
Walker says county departments have responded positively. Employees want to live sustainably, he says, and giving them an opportunity to do it at work is empowering and makes them “own the initiative.”
Although the Green Government Program takes up most of his time, Walker also works on coordinating clean air initiatives between cities and counties across the state. Cooperation between all of the state’s entities, he says, is the key to sustainability success.
“It’s been great to see cities and counties working together to accomplish sustainability goals, because they normally don’t get along while competing for revenue sharing,” he says. “Air quality has no borders. It doesn’t stop and start at a county line and the same goes for sustainability.”
On Greenwashing: “On some level, (greenwashing) brought (sustainability) to the mainstream. The downside is that people leverage that word for not good reasons. Look, you’re not going to save the planet by using reusable bags. People do that and they think their work is done. It’s not true. For the state, I think overall it has helped because otherwise the county wouldn’t be doing it. For all of the things that are bad about that word and false claims, it’s made people care about (sustainability) and made people ask for it.”