Why I started EcoMajority

April 30, 2010

For the better part of last year, I’d been kicking around a website — a community really — that allows homeowners, architects and contractors to build greener, more sustainable homes.  When I left DDB at the beginning of the year, I decided it was time to build it.

It is essentially a forum where people can share their knowledge, research and experience around the sustainable building process. As I’ve said before, there is little that is black and white about making “green” choices — everything is a thousand shades of gray. Add to that the difficulty of finding information and perspective, it’s no wonder that precious few people make sustainable choices — opting instead for the “tried and true.”  I hope that by building this community, we can change that.

Originally I wanted to do product reviews. I could have done that and spent tens of thousands of dollars. Instead I chose a path that would cost much less (in the hundreds of dollars) by using the Ning Network.  I’ve chosen more of a forum format where discussions can take place, helpful links, pictures and experience can be shared.  While I believe this idea is filling an important information gap, I want to prove that there is, in fact, a community that will find this helpful. We shall see. It’s the contributions the community makes to it that will make it live or die.

As you may have guessed, after much exploration, I decided to call the site EcoMajority. I landed on this after thinking about Geoffrey Moore’s book “Crossing the Chasm.” While it is more about technology adoption, the lessons certainly apply.  It looks like this:

As opposed to Geoffrey Moore, I’m not so concerned with the “chasm” present among early adopters, but the power of the majority — the masses — when they decide to adopt new ways of doing things. The reality is that this market will really begin to take off when the majority not just begins considering these options for their homes, but when they actually begin to implement those changes. When the majority does this — the EcoMajority — good things will begin to happen. More innovation will happen. Production will rise, competition will increase and there will be more options from which to choose.  With that, prices will come down and people will buy more. And a positive feedback loop will emerge. And that will be good for the environment.

But there’s a lot between where I am today and that reality in my mind. First, I need a community. An active, engaged, contributing community willing to share their knowledge and experience. That’s you. And your many friends.  My contributions are not enough. So please feel free to pass this message along to your friends and colleagues with your endorsement. Blog about it, Tweet about it, tell your friends about it on Facebook.


We’re building a (green?) house, ed. 2

July 8, 2009

NOTE: Updates of this post can be found at EcoMajority, my web-based forum focused on sustainable home building.

The house project is going well. We’re just less than a month from move-in.  As things wind down, and most (if not all) of our material choices have been made, I’m having a chance to reflect a little bit on our goals from the very beginning of the project and where we find ourselves now.

There were a number of things that caused us to up-root from Queen Anne and move to Bainbridge Island, but I’ll save most of those reasons for another post. One of our main goals was to build as sustainable a house as we could manage. To do that, we knew we would need to balance aesthetics, costs and practicality.

What I hope to do over the next several weeks/months, is to review how we did. But the bottom line is it was a ridiculously hard process. I kept thinking to myself how hard it is to be green. There are few, if any, decisions that are clear and simple.  And finding products and information — even with the amazing power of the Web — often fell between futile and simply a waste of time. Admittedly, I am not a green-building expert. I’m just someone who has built or remodeled a few homes. My wife was an architectural designer for more than a decade. We like this stuff, but that didn’t make it any easier.  (By the way, I have some ideas for how making green choices could be made easier in the future but I’ll save that, too, for a future post.)

Purists may say we copped out on some of our choices. Pragmatists may say that we were highly idealistic, and overspent in some areas and in some ways.  Both are probably true.  I’m hoping that others might learn something based on our decisions — not because they were the “right” decisions from a green perspective (because certainly many weren’t), but because of how and why we arrived where we did.

Stay tuned. I’ll probably tackle decisions in roughly the order they came up in the design and development process.


We’re building a (green?) house, ed. 1

February 16, 2009

NOTE: Updates of this post can be found at EcoMajority, my web-based forum focused on sustainable home building.

wing-point-animation

Almost exactly two years ago, my wife and I got a wild hair.

For years, we thought about moving to Bainbridge Island. But then we stopped thinking about it and actually closed on a piece of property on Wing Point. That single decision was catalyst for many decisions that would change our lives and those of our children. And save the economic crisis our country in stumbling through, we haven’t spent a lot of time looking back.

To move forward, we needed to sell our house in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood — our community throughout our entire marriage — as well as sell our vacation house which we had literally built from the ground up.  We had a few goals:

  1. We wanted to build a house that was all that we loved about our vacation home, but one we could live in every day. That meant an environment where our kids could run (more or less) free. It meant  having a studio space for both Ann and her metalwork, and for me and my painting and other shenanigans. And it meant having room for our friends and family to come and hang out with us — whether for dinner or a week.
  2. We like to build things, and this time we wanted to build a modern-ish house.
  3. We wanted to build a house that was as environmentally responsible and sustainable as we felt we could reasonably do. (I could, and probably will, write many more posts about this aspect of the project.  Suffice it to say, this is not as clear-cut or as easy as one would think.)
  4. We wanted to simplify our lives, even if that meant just going from two residences to one. Naturally, there would be less to think about, and certainly fewer costs in maintaining two homes.

To make a two-year-old story considerably shorter, within just a few months of purchasing the property, we began the design process, choosing Lane William’s Coop15. There were very specific design constraints given that it was a remodel (albeit one that went down to the foundation). We eventually came up with the design you see at the top of this post.

In Fall 2007/Winter 2008 (can’t remember which), we chose our contractor, Smallwood Construction. And in June of 2008 we began deconstruction (not demolition) a process I wrote about in my work blog — which predated “stuffandjunk” and you can read here.

For reasons — actually reason, singular — that isn’t worth going into, we didn’t get going in earnest until August/September. And we hope to move in at the end of July 2009.

Over the course of the coming weeks and months, I’ll write some other posts and share some pictures.  I’ll try to explain the joy with which we look forward to our new home and the discoveries we’ve made along the way.  I’ll also try to honestly share some of the compromises we’ve had to make, the shortcomings in the process and our goals, and even the anguish of building while the economy is cratering. But who are we to complain?

Here are a couple of pictures taken recently.

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Greencollar jobs: a coming boom, or myth?

April 18, 2008

An Inconvenient Screen Shot

I was in the car the other day listening to KUOW (Seattle’s NPR affiliate) and the story was about whether “greencollar” jobs are a real, potential economic boon, or just a bunch of hype.  They interviewed a guy named Todd Myers from the Washington Policy Center, a “free market think tank.”  Mr. Myers said that all of the talk about new opportunities is “almost a hundred percent political.”

It’s his opinion that we’re not creating any new jobs, we’re simply moving them from one segment of the economy to the other — old tech jobs to new tech jobs.

As I drove along (yes, alone, but at least in a Prius) I found myself shaking my head thinking that it was such a waste to be minimizing growth opportunities.  Who’s going to win from such an argument?  (Yes, I understand that some people will win, but at what cost?)

If you saw Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, perhaps you recall the same eureka moment I had realizing how big the opportunity is ahead of us, should we choose to embrace it as citizens, consumers and businesses.  It was 71 minutes into the movie (according to my DVD player) and Gore is making the point that when thinking about the climate crisis, many people move directly “from denial to despair”  without pausing to consider the business opportunities that are created if we respond in the right way.  He talks about the “false choices” many promote, claiming that we have to make a choice between the environment and the economy.  (As an aside, the screen shot above is from when when Gore explains a slide from a presentation he attended at the first Bush White House where the presumption is that we have to choose between nice, shiny gold bars and the entire planet.  It’s one of many moments in the movie where you see that Gore reaally does have a sense of humor).

As I watched that movie, it was blindingly obvious to me that great economic opportunity is in front of us.  Gore cites the examples of the markets that might be available for American made cars if our fuel economy standards weren’t the worst (by far) in the world.  As my wife and I gather resources to build a new home — one that we’re striving to be as sustainable as we can feasibly do — we see it.  We’re talking to people and companies that probably didn’t exist three years ago.  I’ve attended the Built Green show and Greenfestival here in Seattle and there sure are a lot of people who seem to be making a living at this.  Granted, they didn’t all just crawl out from under a rock — they are likely moving from other jobs.  But it sure smells like opportunity to me.

What do you think?


Why is it so hard to be green?

August 7, 2007

My wife and I are contemplating building a new house.  One of the bigger allures for us is to try to build a green home.

Well, it turns out it’s not very simple.  Just like the age-old “paper or plastic” question, nothing seems very clear when it comes to being green.

There are competing certifications for just how green you go (LEED and, in Washington, Built Green).  You essentially earn points for the choices you make in materials and building methods.  For example, you get more points for using certain kinds of carpets over others.  But what do you get for not putting carpet in at all?  No points, as far as I can tell (how’s that for counter-intuitive?)  Should you install solar panels when it takes more than a decade to recoup the costs in your electricity bill?  Should you use a highly green siding material that needs to be shipped halfway around the world, or should you use a less sustainable material that is produced relatively locally?  Nothing is clear or an easy answer.  Some choices are more clear if you are wealthy enough to do things on principle without regard to the economics of the decision.

Which, I suppose, brings me to a point.  I think most people get that we must be more responsible to our planet.  But commercially, we’re not making it clear or simple for consumers or businesses.  Adweek ran a cover story about a year ago called “It’s Not Easy Being Green.”  In it they cited a study that said 64% of the general population can’t name a green brand.  That’s pretty stunning.  But even more worrisome, 51% of those who consider themselves to be “enviromentally conscious” couldn’t even name <strong>one</strong> green brand.

It shouldn’t be this hard.

There is a market out there and it’s growing rapidly.  As marketers, are we responding to that marketplace demand quickly and concisely enough?  I don’t think so. That’s a problem, for sure.  The time to act is now.  There’s great opportunity for those companies that make these dilemmas easier to navigate.