Today, Going Green on the Cape and Islands Means Good Business
Al Gore’s global warming crusade, the much-publicized shrinking habitats for polar bears, and the world’s ever-soaring gas prices have all made “going green” a top international news item over the past year. Here on Cape Cod the Cape Wind debate seems to have drowned out a little known fact: Cape Cod has been quietly greening.
In addition to individual homeowners, some of the Cape’s largest businesses are finding that green building also makes great business sense. As a tourist spot, Cape Cod has long had a direct financial interest in preserving its natural beauty. Until recently, however, being friendly to the Cape’s environment often meant financial sacrifice and/or less convenience. Businesses have traditionally opted for the cheaper non-green solutions, and have been supported by contractors in that decision, without the local sources necessary for environmentally sustainable technology and methods.
But, no more, as businesses and builders here are now locally sourced and have the know-how to help those wanting to go green do it practically and at an expense similar to that of traditional building.
There is a lot more happening now than just wind power in Nantucket Sound. Margaret Song, residential coordinator for the Cape Cod Light Compact, says the Cape is now ahead of the curve nationally. “Although we are not at the absolute forefront of green building,” she notes, “I would say that Cape Cod is a place where people generally care about the environment. We have certainly found a deeper interest in green building and energy efficiency here than most of the country.”
The Compact recently received $1.5 million from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative for its Green Affordable Homes Program. “Through this program,” says Song, “we will be able to help 60 new affordable green housing units throughout Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard to be built with renewable energy systems on their roofs, so owners and tenants directly benefit from on-site generation and low energy bills for the life of the system.”
One of the grant recipients, Joan Muller of East Falmouth, renovated an existing cottage by adding a sunroom as well as a second story. Her goal was quite modest; to build a low maintenance home in a sustainable manner on a limited budget.
“My house is super insulated and situated to make the best use of the sunshine to cut down on my heating bills,” Muller explains. “I have solar PV [photovoltaic] panels, which change radiant energy from the sun into electricity, as well as solar thermal panels, which heat my water for showers, and tubes running through the floor, which heat my house. I have tried to use recycled materials wherever I could.” She also has a hybrid car. She does not use chemical fertilizers on her yard’s flowers, herbs and vegetables.
Residential projects like this are at the forefront of green trends on the Cape and the market is growing significantly. Jeff Rogers, manager of the New England Green Building CenterTM and Conwell Ace Hardware and Lumber, Inc. in Provincetown, sees that current homeowners and new homebuilders are the force behind green building in the residential market. “These people, more than the builders and architects, seem to be driving the market for green homes and supplies. Wellfleet, in particular, seems to have a lot of green building activity.” Rogers thinks the availability of locally-sourced materials has been the primary building block until recently, as well as educating homeowners and builders to the fact that although materials do cost more up front, they will provide cost savings over time.
Not only are private residents going green but businesses and public buildings are too. Earlier this year the Cape & Islands Renewable Energy Collaborative (CIREC) created an online map and guide to sustainable living here (www.cigogreen.org), resulting in the Cape & Islands Regional Energy Action Plan (CIREAP) for Businesses & Organizations. The plan is a mission statement, showing just how close the Cape and Islands may be to some serious progress.
President Chris Powicki explains, “Through CIREC, stakeholder organizations are working toward ambitious yet technically feasible regional goals that cut across the electricity, heating fuel, and transport fuel sectors with two main goals: 1) Generate sufficient renewable energy in the Cape and Islands region to meet 100% of net electricity needs by 2020, and 2) Reduce direct use of fossil fuels for heating and transport applications in the Cape and Islands region by 50%, relative to 2006 consumption, by 2020.”
These goals imply that all new buildings and major renovation projects must be green and that a significant percentage of existing buildings must be retrofitted for the goals to be met.
Cape Cod Community College opened the Lyndon P. Lorusso Applied Technology Building for public viewing in September 2006, the first new building to be added to the College since 1971. It was designed and built under the strict environmentally responsible criteria established by the U.S. Green Building Council (www.usgbc.org/).
A web-based network provides real-time information from the building’s energy management system while also metering gas, electric and water consumption, and information on the occupancy loads and temperatures in all spaces. Among its many green features:
• Light pollution is reduced by the use of site lighting fixtures, which eliminate wasteful upward lighting.
• Paving materials have been selected to reflect sunlight and reduce the build-up of heat in summer months, and to trap runoff, keeping pollutants from contaminating groundwater.
• Deciduous trees shade the building in summer and permit solar heat to enter the building in winter, thus improving the efficiency of building systems.
• Solar energy collectors installed on the rooftop consist of 122 photovoltaic panels, which generate 27 kilowatts of renewable energy. Combined with dual occupancy/daylight sensors and daylight controls, the building systems will use 35% less energy than conventional systems.
Michael Gross, the College’s director of communication, says, “This building is a model for incorporating green design principles into building planning and design, and for utilizing the resulting facility as a teaching tool for the public.”
Strong examples are invaluable here on the Cape since there is not one single organization or agency that is considered “the authority” on green building. “Green” may mean something as simple as screwing in fixtures or as involved as building a super insulated home built with non-toxic products.
Megan Amsler, executive director of the Cape & Islands Self-Reliance Corporation, says they’re committed to helping get people started. “We want people to have a free energy audit from the Cape Light Compact to help reduce the amount of energy that is being consumed in the home. There are some simple behavioral changes that can make a difference,” she adds. “Turning off the car engine…it is illegal in MA to idle for more than 5 minutes. Turning off lights when they are not in use. When it is time to upgrade the washing machine, refrigerator, or A/C unit, go for the Energy Star label and do your homework on what is the most energy efficient unit available.”
In 2006 the Massachusetts Audubon Society broke ground on its green building at the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. Energy efficiency was created through the following:
• Windows with high R-values (resistance to heat flow)
• Environmentally-friendly insulation with high R-values in walls and windows
• Ceiling fans
• Air handling systems that help maintain comfortable temperatures. by moving air through the high windows in order to keep the interior temperature stable with less energy use.
Director Bob Prescott points out that every detail was considered, right down to the sheetrock, which is “greener” than plaster because it can be recycled. “The short-term cost was sometimes more,” Prescott explains, “but there are long-term savings in almost every instance that I am aware of. I think we need more retrofit, though sometimes that is just not possible. Retro-fitting is the ultimate recycling and we did both with our current building.”
In some buildings, there are 100 ways to be green and in others there may only be one or two. “Bottom line is that before anything was done,” says Prescott, “the owners, the architect, builder/contractor and landscape architect made a commitment to use recycled material.”
But helping the environment isn’t always about how you build. Sometimes it’s about how you prepare the ground before building. Take the International Fund For Animal Welfare’s new headquarters now being built in Hyannis. Communications coordinator Kerry Branon points out, “During property negotiations, IFAW discovered soil contamination on the new building site. As a first step in its environmental commitment, IFAW voluntarily conducted a full cleanup, removing 9,000 cubic yards of contaminated fill. The site is now certified as clean and ready for building.”
The offices, composed of three, two-story barn-like structures totaling 40,000 square feet, are now on track to achieving LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) gold certification for many of the green features. Due for completion in 2008, it’s set to be the latest concrete example of just how much can be done to go green on Cape Cod these days.
If you’re unsure of where to begin with your home or business, Chris Powicki of CIREC says an organization like his can help in both getting the information out there and in matching green projects with grants. “Education is the primary challenge in getting consumers to understand the value of going green, and money is the primary obstacle to large-scale progress.”
October 6th is the National Green Building and Solar Home Tour, organized by the Cape & Islands Self-Reliance Corporation (www.reliance.org). It’s a great idea for those interested in going green to talk to people who have already begun the journey. As Jeff Nelson of Chatham Building and Design says, when it comes to going green, it shouldn’t all be about a cost analysis, “Cape Codders need to create a conscious community that keeps evolving.” One where people continue to “open their hearts.” CHA
10 steps you can take to save money and energy
- Reduce climate change emissions (CO2), reliance on foreign oil, and improve our air quality and quality of life.
- Purchase green electricity; it’s easy and quick to do! Contact your electricity supplier, check their web site, or go to www.green-e.org to learn about purchasing “clean electricity” and support renewable energy production. Depending on your supplier, you can pay a little bit more for clean renewable electricity or you can purchase renewable energy certificates.
- Replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent energy-efficient light bulbs.
Compact fluorescent bulbs use about one-fourth less electricity than incandescent, reduce CO2 emissions, last 9,000+ hours longer than incandescent bulbs, and offset approximately 1.5 tons of emissions per household per year. They may cost more to buy, but save you money in the long run.
- Turn off your computer when done and unplug appliances if not used often. Save money on electricity bills, reduce electricity consumption, and reduce CO2 emissions. Most appliances and computers use electricity even when “off.” In hot weather, an idling computer adds heat to a room, forcing air conditioning to run longer and use even more electricity to lower the temperature.
- Choose Energy Star labeled appliances when purchasing new ones. Save money on energy bills, reduce electricity consumption, and reduce CO2 emissions.
- Weatherize your home. Seal cracks in your home by weather stripping and caulking, and add insulation to reduce heating and cooling bills, energy consumption, and CO2 emissions. Many electricity and heating suppliers offer low cost or free home energy audits to help you pinpoint areas that need attention, and make the changes.
- Install solar panels and/or a solar hot water heating system. Invest in reducing energy consumption by harnessing the power of the sun and reduce CO2 emissions. Ask for a Green Home when purchasing, renovating, or building a home. It’s healthier and saves money on energy bills, reduces electricity consumption, and reduces CO2 emissions.
- Purchase a fuel-efficient automobile. Save money on fuel and reduce CO2 emission concentrations.
- Use alternate transportation. Consider walking, biking, using public transit, or an electric scooter before you drive.
- Purchase locally grown organic food as often as possible. Reduce CO2 emissions since the food travels a shorter distance to your plate, and buying organic assures that petroleum-based fertilizers are not used.And go the extra step… Be active in your community, vote, and write letters. Let your voice be heard and your thoughts be known to your state and federal representatives! You can make a difference by supporting the installation of a clean renewable energy facility such as a wind turbine, a biofueled facility, or landfill gas recovery facility
in your community.
Courtesy of the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association www.nesea.org
Photo and text by Christopher Seufert, Fall 2007
Christopher Seufert is a writer and photographer who grew up in Chatham. He runs the video production company, Mooncusser Films, and is the author of the hardcover photography book, Chatham Views, available at www.CapeCodPhoto.net.