Sustainable Ecopreneurship Course at ASU

ASU Technopolis Sustainable Launch Prep Entrepreneurship Course (LPEC)


The Sustainable Launch Prep Entrepreneurship Course (Sustainable LPEC) is a program sponsored by Salt River Project (SRP) and the National Collegiate Inventors and Investors Alliance (NCIIA). The NCIIA has provided a grant to develop the Sustainable LPEC program and to deliver it twice during the 2007-2008 academic year.

This is an interactive introduction of basic sustainability and start-up concepts for innovators and entrepreneurs interested in creating ventures in markets related to sustainability.

The Sustainable LPEC course combines the best of education in sustainability and entrepreneurship from ASU Technopolis, the ASU Global Institute of Sustainability and the ASU School of Sustainability. Sustainability education components include an introduction to sustainability and sustainable development, an overview of sustainable technologies and markets, funding for sustainable ventures and examples of successful sustainable venture models. Entrepreneurial education covers all aspects of starting, funding and growing early-stage companies.

Dr. Jay Golden, Assistant Professor in the School of Sustainability and Director of the National Center of Excellence on Sustainable Material and Renewable Technology (SMART) Innovations, and Dan O’Neill, Entrepreneurial Coach with ASU Technopolis, co-facilitate the course. Both are seasoned and experienced entrepreneurs. The course also includes lectures from guest experts with expertise in sustainability-related markets who will speak on topics such as entrepreneurship, intellectual property, product development, business development, marketing, sales, finance, law and team building.

Each class attendee will have the opportunity, if they desire, to develop a business concept presentation to be given multiple times during the course of the class, including to a panel of sustainability business experts.

*Visa, Mastercard and Discover accepted.


Eight consecutive 3-hour Monday sessions from 6:00 – 9:00 p.m. for up to 30 entrepreneurs. Teams or individuals create and present their business concepts.
Participants receive lectures from guest speakers such as ‘been there, done that’ entrepreneurs as well as domain experts in areas of intellectual property (IP), product development, business development, marketing, sales, finance, law and team building.
Guest speakers will specifically have expertise in sustainability and sustainable technology markets.
Participants study cases, review reference materials, complete homework, practice their business concept presentations and receive feedback on their work.
Draws upon ASU Global Institute of Sustainability and ASU Technopolis, as well as other sustainability and entrepreneurial resources, for materials and handouts. Participants are given homework.
The course ideally feeds into the Launch Pad Program. Those entrepreneurs with the most promising ideas and success in Sustainable LPEC may be invited to participate in the Launch Pad program.

Nordic Countries Know How to Create Sustainable Communities by Tim Montague


The Natural Step for Communities

By Tim Montague

Sweden has a penchant for safety and cleanliness. Swedes invented the
Volvo, one of the safest automobiles. Volvos are built to minimize
harm to passengers during accidents, and they are built without toxic
flame retardants. Swedes invented the safety- match and dynamite too
— much safer than the alternative it replaced, black powder.
Recently, Sweden has become known for its innovations in sustainable
development — safer development.

Sweden recently declared that it will create an energy and
transportation economy that runs free of oil by the year 2020. But the
groundwork for this radical declaration was laid in the 1980s by
Sweden’s eco-municipality movement, which successfully incorporated
sustainability into municipal planning and development.

Before former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland became a
household name in international environmental circles, Sweden and
Finland were stimulating local economic growth in ways that were good
for people and the planet. The town of Overtornea — Sweden’s first
eco-municipality — was an early adopter of what we now call
sustainable development, which “meets the needs of the present without
compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own
needs.”[The Brundtland Report, 1987].

Simultaneously, The Natural Step (TNS) was being developed by
Swedish scientist Karl-Henrik Robert. The Natural Step began as a
way for individual companies to create more environmentally and
socially responsible practices; see Rachel’s News #667, #668, and
#676. And TNS was quickly embraced by Swedish planners, government
officials and residents who wanted to achieve their goals AND minimize
harm to the environment and human health.

The Swedish economist and planner Torbjorn Lahti was one of the
visionaries in Overtornea — a town of 5,000 that had 25%
unemployment and had lost 20% of its population during the previous 20
years. Lahti and his colleagues engaged the community — getting
participation from 10% of residents — to create a shared vision of a
local economy based on renewable energy, public transportation,
organic agriculture, and rural land preservation. In 2001 the town
became 100% free of fossil fuels. Public transportation is free. The
region is now the largest organic farming area in Sweden and more than
200 new businesses have sprung up.

The story of the eco-municipality movement is documented in the new
book, The Natural Step for Communities; How Cities and Towns can
Change to Sustainable Practices (2004; ISBN 0865714916) written by
American planner Sarah James and Torbjorn Lahti. Today there are
more than 60 eco-municipalities in Sweden — representing 20 percent
of the population — and this movement for social and ecological
sanity has spread throughout Norway, Finland and Denmark as well.

Here in North America, cities like Whistler, British Columbia,
Portland, Oregon, and Santa Monica, California are on the
bleeding-green edge with city-wide master plans in which
sustainability is more than just a buzzword. These cities are making
the transition to renewable energy, mass-transit, green building, zero
waste and open-space preservation. As a report card on Santa
Monica’s progress shows, they have a long way to go, especially on the
social-justice front, to meet the Brundtland Report definition of
sustainability. But they are trending in the right direction. They are

What is the Natural Step for Communities and how does it work?

Like the Precautionary Principle — which is another lens forak;dr;job;
sustainability — the Natural Step (TNS) says that the decision-making
process must be inclusive and participatory. TNS recognizes that the
communities we live in will be self-sustaining only when resources are
justly distributed. You can have the greenest buildings, the cleanest
energy in the world, and the best public transportation. But without a
just social system, the community will not achieve sustainability.

The Natural Step has four ‘system conditions’ which, when achieved,
will create sustainable conditions. In a sustainable society, nature
is not subject to systematically increasing

1. concentrations of substances extracted from the Earth’s crust;

2. concentrations of substances produced by society;

3. degradation by physical means

4. and, in that society human needs are met.

In other words, we should minimize harm to the earth and human health;
we should use alternatives to fossil fuels, toxic metals, and other
persistent toxic substances. We should achieve zero waste (or darn
near). And we should protect and restore nature and the ecosystem
services it provides. But most importantly, we should meet basic human
needs for food, shelter, education and healthcare. I would add that
basic human needs include a social environment free of social
isolation bred of racism and classism, an environment that nurtures
and respects everyone.

According to The Natural Step for Communities, social justice is a
prerequisite that will either allow or prevent the other system
conditions from being achieved. And while TNS for Communities is rich
with examples of towns and cities that have improved their physical
and natural environments, the examples of improved social environments
are fewer and less concrete.

The indigenous Sami people — a trans-arctic people living in
Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia — are struggling to hold on to
their traditional reindeer herding culture which is being crowded out
by logging, development and environmental degradation. While some
groups of Sami — as suggested by TNS for Communities — are
transitioning to an economy based on eco-tourism, the growth of that
phenomenon isn’t necessarily socially, economically and
environmentally sustainable. If the traditional Sami culture dies,
then this movement has failed.

While there are obvious technological fixes to some of our
environmental woes — like wind energy and electric vehicles —
solving the issues of institutional racism are not specifically
addressed by the Natural Step. Still, I believe TNS for Communities
does hold several important pearls of wisdom for all cultures.

** Begin and guide a planning process with a community-defined vision
of a desired future (set goals; involve residents in the process).

** Combine vision, planning, and action from the start and throughout
the planning process (assess alternatives and choose the best one;
pick the low-hanging fruit and dive into real projects that improve

** Include the full range of community interests, values, and
perspectives in a meaningful way (involve those most affected; use
open, democratic decision-making).

** Plan in cycles, not just one linear pass (learn from your mistakes
and oversights; correct course accordingly).

** Focus on finding agreement, not on resolving disagreement (consider
the positive).

** Lead from the side (involve those most affected: let residents be
the experts).

There is mounting evidence that the Nordic model — including Sweden
and Finland — of free education, affordable healthcare, and cradle-
to-grave social services COMBINED with high rates of investment in
industrial research and development produces a high standard of living
and a vibrant economy.

As we begin to acknowledge that the social determinants of health are
MORE important than purely environmental factors, those of us who are
building a movement for a sustainable urban environment have much to
learn from the Natural Step and the eco-village movement.

Home Sustainable Home by Tim Vanderpool

Here’s a story from the Tucson Weekly about Sustainable Tucson’s hero, Brad Lancaster.

Home Sustainable Home

A tour of eco-friendly Tucson houses shows the possibilities for a brighter future


There’s an insurgent joy to the clipped power cables poking from Brad Lancaster’s home. And there’s a defiant beauty to the lush enclave that surrounds his old adobe. All off the grid and flush with desert shrubs, trees, lizards and birds, his world thrives on a fraction of the energy and water used by most Tucsonans.
Lancaster handed Tucson Electric its walking papers a few years ago, when his residence went all solar. And while Tucson Water is still on the scene, the utility doesn’t pull much weight around here. Instead, clever landscape design, abundant gray-water use and a 1,200-gallon concrete cistern maintain this exuberant oasis.

A big, friendly guy with a reddish beard, Lancaster strides around his downtown-area enclave with a kid’s enthusiasm. “This is our laboratory and our playground,” he says. In fact, he’s fashioned an upbeat career from showing how folks can squeeze their earthly impact to miniscule proportions. He recently authored Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands (Rainsource Press, 2006). And he says achieving drastic reductions in water and electricity use don’t require rocket science.

You can learn more yourself this weekend, when Lancaster’s home is featured on the 11th annual Tucson Innovative Home Tour and Tucson Solar Tour. Co-sponsored by the Solar Institute, the event highlights 20 award-winning sites that illustrate how to slash water and energy use, without living like a Spartan. From expert speakers, you can also learn how to cut home construction costs in half and save up to 80 percent in electricity and gas costs.

Paul Huddy is a physicist and the Solar Institute’s chief scientist. He says it’s never been more critical to look hard at conservation techniques offered by the tour. “The world’s population just turned 6.6 billion. The population of the United States reached 300 million, and the population of the Tucson metropolitan area is about to reach 1 million.

“All over the planet, this growth of human population is having very big impacts on the planet that sustains us,” he says. Given those numbers, “it’s no coincidence that almost every major government issue has to do with greater competition for dwindling resources.”

Those resources are particularly tight in Tucson, he says. “This is a desert, and one of the least sustainable environments in the entire country. So we import from distant places all of the things sustaining us–energy, food, building materials. And that is becoming steadily more difficult and expensive.”

To Huddy, the message is clear. “We need to look at a new way of doing things,” he says. “The environment was an important concept for us around 1970. At this point, sustainability is the important concept. We need to learn how to fit in with nature and our local environment better, so we don’t have to import all this stuff–so we can sustain ourselves better.”

Nor could we find a better community for getting into a sustainable mode, he says. “Tucson is really being recognized as a leader in this sort of thing. Professionals come here from around the world for that reason. And the Tucson Innovative Home Tour was established so that everybody else could learn about sustainability.

“This gives people a chance to find out how to live better in the desert, ” he says. And there’s an added bonus: “Approaching your lifestyle through the concept of sustainability can be a whale of a lot less expensive.”

Just ask Brad Lancaster. His utility bills are miniscule. And he’s created his Xanadu on a shoestring. “We started where it’s the cheapest and easiest to harvest water,” he says. “That’s the landscape, because you don’t need to worry about water quality issues.

“Here’s a kicker,” he says. “Thirty percent of the potable water consumed in an average single family home in Tucson is cast in the dirt. It’s used for irrigation. Another 30 percent in the house goes down the toilet. And we go to such a huge expense purifying this water to deliver to every home.

“But a simple way for people to shift out of that 30 percent for landscape use is to set up simple water-harvesting networks, so water falling from the sky pools in basins. Then we mulch those basins heavily, and we vegetate them heavily, so they become living sponges where the water rapidly infiltrates.”

In turn, that water is “recycled” into plants and trees. “They are living pumps,” he says, “that allow us to access the water in the form of passive cooling shade, wildlife habitat, food from the mesquite pods, ironwood seeds and oranges, peaches and pomegranates.” Those trees also keep his home some 20 degrees cooler than unshaded parts of the neighborhood.

In turn, a solar-powered washing machine is shared with neighbors. It directs gray water to trees around the yard, each connected by a separate piping system. Sun-drenched parts of Lancaster’s home are shaded with vines and trellises, and the vegetable garden is irrigated by harvested rainwater.

And we’re talking lots of rainwater. In a given year, he captures about 100,000 gallons in the cistern and basins. Compare that to the average Tucson family, which uses about 20,000 gallons of water each year.

There there’s the 25 percent of his food needs grown in his own garden, the photovoltaic solar power system, the solar water heaters and the solar oven where most of the food is cooked.

And the 748-square-foot home “doesn’t have mechanical heating or cooling,” he says. “We open the house up at night and close it during the day. Now, it’s not like going into a city building with 76-degree air conditioning, but I feel a lot healthier, because I’m not going from one extreme temperature to another.”

If you’re not convinced, take a moment to ponder Lancaster’s utility bills. “Right now, it’s about $20 a month,” he says with a big smile.

Tucson Innovative Home Tour



Eco-Results – Putting People Back into Nature

Working together to heal the West

Norm Lowe, Gail Lowe, Dan Dagget

Though EcoResults! is a startup enterprise, the people responsible for it have served as pioneers in creating collaborative, results-based solutions to Western environmental challenges.

Dan Dagget, environmentalist and author, literally wrote the book on the subject of applying collaborative solutions to Western ecosystems, Dagget’s book, Beyond The Rangeland Conflict—Toward a West That Works, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and has been described as one of the most important books on the contemporary West. In 1992 Dagget was honored as one of the top one hundred grass roots environmental activists in America by the Sierra Club for its centennial celebration. He has given more than a hundred talks around the West on the outstanding results that environmentalists and ranchers achieve when they apply a results-based approach and work together.

Norm Lowe is president and jack-of-all-trades of the Diablo Trust, a collaborative group that has been designated a government reinvention lab for the work it is doing with two ranches near Flagstaff, Arizona, encompassing 426,000 acres of land. Norm has a B.S. in Range Management and has had range management planning and monitoring experience with the Forest Service, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. He is the current Range Program supervisor for the Navajo New Lands project in Arizona and has served as education chairman for both the Arizona and International Society of Range Management.

Gail Lowe has a B.A. in Anthropology and a Masters of International Management. She is a member of the Arizona Society of CPAs, the Greater Flagstaff Economic Council and the Diablo Trust. Gail services over 100 clients in various industries. She was financial/business manager of Tucson Downtown Development Corporation (a private non-profit corporation) along with four other for-profit firms.

P. O. Box 61613, Santa Barbara, CA 93160 • (805) 964-5788 •

Anything Into Oil by Brad Lemley

Discover Magazine Issues Apr-06 features Anything Into Oil
Anything Into Oil
Turkey guts, junked car parts, and even raw sewage go in one end of this plant, and black gold comes out the other end.
By Brad Lemley
Photography by Dean Kaufman
DISCOVER Vol. 27 No. 04 | April 2006 | Technology

The thermal conversion plant turns turkey offal into low-sulfur oil that is carted off by three tanker trucks daily.

The smell is a mélange of midsummer corpse with fried-liver overtones and a distinct fecal note. It comes from the worst stuff in the world—turkey slaughterhouse waste. Rotting heads, gnarled feet, slimy intestines, and lungs swollen with putrid gases have been trucked here from a local Butterball packager and dumped into an 80-foot-long hopper with a sickening glorp. In about 20 minutes, the awful mess disappears into the workings of the thermal conversion process plant in Carthage, Missouri.

Two hours later a much cleaner truck—an oil carrier—pulls up to the other end of the plant, and the driver attaches a hose to the truck’s intake valve. One hundred fifty barrels of fuel oil, worth $12,600 wholesale, gush into the truck, headed for an oil company that will blend it with heavier fossil-fuel oils to upgrade the stock. Three tanker trucks arrive here on peak production days, loading up with 500 barrels of oil made from 270 tons of turkey guts and 20 tons of pig fat. Most of what cannot be converted into fuel oil becomes high-grade fertilizer; the rest is water clean enough to discharge into a municipal wastewater system.

For Brian Appel—and, maybe, for an energy-hungry world—it’s a dream come true, better than turning straw into gold. The thermal conversion process can take material more plentiful and troublesome than straw—slaughterhouse waste, municipal sewage, old tires, mixed plastics, virtually all the wretched detritus of modern life—and make it something the world needs much more than gold: high-quality oil.

Appel, chairman and CEO of Changing World Technologies, has prodded, pushed, and sometimes bulldozed his way toward this goal for nearly a decade, and his joy is almost palpable. “This is a real plant,” he says, grinning broadly. He nods at the $42 million mass of tanks, pipes, pumps, grinders, boilers, and catwalks inside a corrugated steel building. The plant is perched 100 yards from ConAgra Foods’ Butterball plant, where 35,000 turkeys are butchered daily, surrendering their viscera to Appel’s operation. The pig fat comes from four other midwestern ConAgra slaughterhouses. “To anybody who thinks this can’t work on an industrial scale, I say, ‘Come here and look.’ This is the first commercial biorefinery in the world that can make oil from a variety of waste streams.”

Still, Appel looks wearier than he did when Discover broke the news about his company’s technology (see “Anything Into Oil,” May 2003). Back then, when the process was still experimental, Appel predicted that the Carthage plant would crank out oil for about $15 a barrel and rack up profits from day one. But the plant was delayed by construction problems, and federal subsidies were postponed. After it started up, a foul odor angered town residents, leading to a temporary shutdown in December 2005. Production costs turned out to be $80 per barrel, meaning that for most of the plant’s working life Appel has lost about $40 per barrel. As recently as last April, he feared the whole operation might implode. “There have definitely been growing pains,” he says. “We have made mistakes. We were too aggressive in our earlier projections.”

But now, after more than $100 million in private funding and $17 million in government grants, several hurdles have tumbled. The Carthage plant has been optimized and is expected to turn a small profit. A tax credit has leveled the playing field with other renewable fuels like biodiesel and ethanol. Appel is confident that new ozone scrubbers and other equipment will abate the odors. State officials are warily optimistic. “We are not hoping to shut them down [permanently] and take away jobs,” says Connie Patterson, spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. “We have given them a window of opportunity to solve the problem.”

Others are optimistic too. “I’m impressed,” says Gabriel Miller, a New York University chemistry professor and a consultant to KeySpan Corporation, a gas and electric utility that serves New York. “The fuel that comes out is better than crude, and you don’t need a refinery to use it. I think they can bring it deep into commercialization.” Miller has recommended that KeySpan burn the oil in its generators.

Appel, a former Hofstra University basketball star, leans his 6-foot-5-inch frame against a counter in the company’s lab and rubs his face. He says he is confident that the process can indeed solve thorny waste problems, supplement oil supplies, become an odor-free “good neighbor,” and at last, become immensely lucrative.

The catch? It may not happen in the United States.

Left to right: An on-site lab checks oil and fertilizer quality a dozen times daily; some of the plant’s 45 workers stroll under oil-bearing pipes; daily maintenance logs are kept on a whiteboard; (Below) a truck is weighed before dumping turkey leftovers; the scrubber system’s exhaust stack, wrapped in a steel framework, looms over the plant.

Appel has shepherded development of the thermal conversion process(previously known as the thermal depolymerization process; Appel changed the unwieldy moniker last year) since 1997, building on organic-solids-into-oil research stretching back nearly a century. By 1999 he had lined up investors, hired an engineering staff, and had a pilot plant chewing through seven tons of waste daily in a Philadelphia industrial yard. Early in 2003, company officials predicted their first industrial-size plant would be steaming ahead 24/7 in Carthage by that summer. As it turned out, continuous production did not start until February 2005.

Which is surprising because at first blush, the thermal conversion process seems straightforward. The first thing a visitor sees when he steps into the loading bay is a fat pressurized pipe, which pushes the guts from the receiving hopper into a brawny grinder that chews them into pea-size bits. Dry feedstocks like tires and plastics need additional water at this stage, but offal is wet enough. A first-stage reactor breaks down the stuff with heat and pressure, after which the pressure rapidly drops, flashing off excess water and minerals. In turkeys, the minerals come mostly from bones, and these are shunted to a storage bin to be sold later as a high-calcium powdered fertilizer.

The remaining concentrated organic soup then pours into a second reaction tank—Appel says the two-stage nature of the process distinguishes it from dozens of failed single-stage waste-to-oil schemes devised over the last century—where it is heated to 500 degrees Fahrenheit and pressurized to 600 pounds per square inch. In 20 minutes, the process replicates what the deep earth does to dead plants and animals over centuries, chopping long, complex molecular chains of hydrogen and carbon into short-chain molecules. Next, the pressure and temperature drop, and the soup swirls through a centrifuge that separates any remaining water from the oil. The water, which in the case of slaughterhouse waste is laden with nitrogen and amino acids, is stored to be sold as a potent liquid fertilizer (see “Garden Delights,” next page). Meanwhile, the oil goes to the storage tank to await the next truck. The whole process is efficient, says Terry Adams, the company’s chief technology officer: Only 15 percent of the potential energy in the feedstock is used to power the operation; 85 percent is embodied in the output of oil and other products.

The oil itself meets specification D396, a type widely used to power electrical utility generators. The oil can be sold to utilities as is, further distilled into vehicle-grade diesel and gasoline, or, via a steam process, made into hydrogen. Until last year, Appel distilled his output on-site, but he has since decided to sell the oil directly to utilities and refineries. “We just don’t make enough volume to make operating our own refinery viable,” he says.

So why has success been so long coming? Basically, Appel says, everything has been more complex and expensive than anyone guessed. First, the conversion process needed tweaking. Each variable—temperature, pressure, volume, tank-residence time—needs to precisely match the feedstock, which proves to be no mean feat on an industrial scale. “The really difficult thing has been finding the sweet spot in the process parameters,” says Appel. “This isn’t a laboratory. We have to respond to the real world of varying supply. If I get two truckloads in a row of just feathers, I need to deal with that high-protein peak. Or if I get too much blood at once, the result is too much water.” The solution has been to blend disparate truckloads of stock in a holding tank, making what enters the process relatively consistent.

“Fat, fiber, protein, moisture, ash—getting those right, that’s our mantra,” says Jim Freiss, vice president of engineering. “Now we are able to nail the same quality every day.” Freiss says he and fellow engineers Terry Adams and William Lange “have learned so much that I am very confident we can build a second plant that’s optimized from the start.”

Chemistry was not the only challenge. Since 2004, the federal government has subsidized biodiesel, usually made from soybeans, at $1 a gallon. It gave Appel zero for the fuel he produced from turkey guts. “It was hard to believe that a competitor could walk away with a dollar a gallon while we were excluded,” Appel says. In August that hole was plugged: The fuel Appel makes, known officially as renewable diesel, received a subsidy of $1 per gallon from the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which took effect in January. That boosted the company’s income by $42 a barrel, allowing a slim profit of $4 a barrel.

Appel offers no apologies for needing government largesse to make money. “All oil, even fossil-fuel oil, gets government subsidies in the form of tax breaks and other incentives,” he says, citing a 1998 study by the International Center for Technology Assessment showing that unsubsidized conventional gasoline would cost consumers $15 a gallon. “Before we got this, I had the only oil in the world that didn’t get a subsidy.”

Another hurdle: Within months after opening in February 2005, the plant smelled, and by August it had been hit by six notices of emissions violations by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. But some in the town, which has other large food processing operations, contend the new plant was unfairly singled out. “The thing was, any odor at all was blamed on them,” says Mayor Kenneth Johnson. In any case, Renewable Environmental Solutions, the subsidiary of Changing World Technologies that runs the Carthage plant, spent $2 million on biofilters, scrubbers, and other odor stoppers. Between July and late September complaints had dwindled from 23 to 5 a week, says Mark Rader, an environmental specialist with the department’s southwest regional office.

Nonetheless, the Department of Natural Resources issued a temporary shutdown order for the plant in December, prompting Appel and his colleagues to install more ozone scrubbers. But even critics say the persistence of a smell does not invalidate the technology. The plant is just four blocks from downtown Carthage and two blocks from residences. Building future plants in less dense areas would “make more sense,” says Department of Natural Resources spokesperson Connie Patterson.

Sustainable Community – Village Homes by David Bainbridge

Sustainable Building Sustainable Agriculture Environmental Restoration Native America Search Site Index

Sustainable Community – Village Homes, Davis, California

By David A. Bainbridge
(Former Planner in Davis, VH Resident,
& VH Community Board Member)
Associate Professor
United States International College of Business
Alliant International University
San Diego, CA 92131

Village Homes is an innovative mixed use planned unit development that was started in 1974 on 60 acres in Davis, California. It was designed and built by developers Michael and Judy Corbett, with help from many others. It was financed by Sacramento Savings and Loan and building was phased in over 5 years to allow for careful construction and sustained work for builders. At build-out it includes 220 single family homes, 20 apartments and a cooperative house, most incorporating solar design features and solar hot water. Business space is included in the community center and an inn was recently completed. There is a comprehensive community center, with pool, meeting and party rooms, and large playing field. The developer allowed individual builders to buy lots, although 60% of the homes were built by the Village Homes company. This added diversity in design and an opportunity for innovation. Several builders who got their start in Village Homes were able to build their own homes in the development and have become major local builders in the community. The developer also built a home and he and his family have always lived in the community.

The primary focus of the development plan was on community building. Shared ownership of common areas and common spaces, shared laundry space for some units, shared gardens, community gardens, community fruit and nut trees and vineyards, and bicycling (much of the City of Davis commute is by bicycle) and walking orientation have been very successful in building community. In a study comparing Village Homes to surrounding contemporary development (standard suburbia) the residents of the Village Homes development knew 42 people in their neighborhood, compared to 17 in other areas. The average resident identifies 4 of their best friends in the community, compared to 0.4 for people in the conventional development. This community spirit and people orientation has also virtually eliminated crime (only 10% of the city average). Density is almost double surrounding areas, but the quality of life is much higher. This is reflected in increased home value (a $10-15 per square foot premium) and much quicker home sales in Village Homes.

Aerial View of Village Homes

The orientation of streets and paths was also designed to facilitate natural heating and cooling using winter sun for solar heating and shade and night-time ventilation cooling for relief from the summer heat. This followed suggestions made by the consulting firm Living Systems in reports to the City of Davis on the performance of conventional apartments and homes and an innovative climate adapted building code and workbook (since supplanted by the much less sophisticated and cumbersome Title 24 state standards). The original program worked very well and included training for builders and building officials. Homes are known for improved comfort and bills average about 50-60% of surrounding developments. The comfort is also aided by narrow streets which reduce the urban heat island effect.

Energy conservation, comfort and safety are also aided by bicycle and pedestrian orientation and narrow streets. The fight for narrow streets was difficult, and succeeded only after Living Systems developed guidelines for street design for the City of Davis based on European research showing that narrower streets were safer. Off street parking, a focus of houses toward the bikeways not the street, and limited through traffic enabled street width to be cut from 44-52 feet in conventional developments to 20-26 feet in Village Homes. This also reduces cost, minimizes overheating during the hot summer, reduces stormwater drainage problems, and improves the quality of life by minimizing traffic and noise.

The second biggest struggle was over above-ground storm water drainage in natural looking swales with infiltration basins. This was considered heretical by the City engineers, but after a long fight it was approved. It was tested by very heavy rains not long after it was completed and Village Homes was one of the only areas in the City that didn’t flood. Subsequent developments have added even larger retention basins and infiltration ponds. On many evenings muskrats, ducks, geese and other birds can be seen enjoying these park features, and they conserve water and return it to the groundwater resource for use.

Village Homes demonstrated to all involved that development can work for people and the environment. It is a lasting tribute to the energy, wisdom and persistence of the Corbetts. It set a standard for new villages to match or equal. As the Corbetts say, “We do not view Village Homes as an ideal. We see it as a step in the right direction.” We know much more know and can and should do much better today.

Further Reading:
(Prepared by David Bainbridge and Val Czapelski Okerstrom, Research Assistant)

Corbett, Judy and Corbett, Michael. 2000. Designing Sustainable Communities:
Learning from Village Homes. Island Press, Washington, D.C. 235 p.
Bainbridge, D.A. 1987. Energy self-reliant neighborhoods. pp. 398-402. In D.A.
Andrejko and J. Hayes, eds. 12th Passive Solar Conference Proceedings,
American Section International Solar Energy Society (ASISES), Boulder,
Corbett, M. 1981. A Better Place to Live. Rodale Press, Emmaus, Pennsylvania.
Bainbridge, D.A., Corbett, J. and J. Hofacre. 1979. Village Homes’ Solar House
Designs. Rodale Press, Emmaus, Pennsylvania.
Bainbridge, D.A. 1976. Planning for energy conservation. Living Systems for the
City of Davis, California, 83 p.
Bainbridge, D.A. 1976. Street design for energy conservation. Living Systems for
the City of Davis, California. 19 p.
Melzer, B., M. Hunt, D.A. Bainbridge. 1976. Energy conservation in building: code
workbook. Living Systems for the City of Davis, California
Bainbridge, D.A. 1976. Towards an environmental new town. Council of Planning
Libraries Exchange Bibliography #967, 6 p.

Internet Source:

Corbett, J. and M. Corbett. 1999. Toward better neighborhood design. College of
Human Ecology, Michigan State University.

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Chinese Eco-city by Pierre Labgellier and Brice Pedroletti

Here’s a very interesting report that may be worth looking into, from
Local Living Communities News, 05-01 to 06-30

Please feel free to forward this news / resource to other group lists
and organizations. Your sharing makes it possible to reach a wider circle,
cooperating for a stronger sustainable vision.

Sustainable Neighbourhoods / Urban Ecological Planning

China to Build First Eco-city, WEB Reference, May 10, 2006 (Guardian Weekly, Jean-Pierre Langellier and Brice Pedroletti)

Imagine it is 2010. The place is Dongtan, the world’s first purpose-built eco-city.
It stands in the middle of the marshes at the eastern tip of Chongming, China’s third largest island, at the mouth of the Yangtse River. None of the buildings is more than eight stories high. Turf and vegetation cover the roofs, a natural form of insulation that also recycles wastewater. The town has six times more space for pedestrians than
Copenhagen, one of Europe’s airiest capitals. Pollution-free buses, powered
by fuel cells, run between neighbourhoods. An Intranet service forecasts
travel times and connects people who want to share a car. Traditional
motorbikes are forbidden, replaced by electric scooters or bicycles. The
roads are laid out so that walking or cycling to work is quicker than driving.,,1767547,00.h

Local Living Communities research from around the world,

Courtesy of … The Community Involvement Project
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Ph: 250-753-5605


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Thanks to Tom Greco for bringing this article to our attention.

Indiana Town to Create Sustainable Power

Here’s an article from In Business magazine  



In Business, September-October, 2006, Vol. 28, No. 5, p. 18

A major goal of this small community is to use homegrown local power sources to become independent from foreign oil by implementing conversion technologies.

Mark Jenner

REYNOLDS, INDIANA in White County is starting a one-town rebellion to launch homegrown local energy production to become independent from foreign oil, while gaining solutions to waste management issues and revitalized economic development. Its biorenewable power resources will convert animal and human waste to biogas and electrical energy. “We do have a vision to create the first biorenewable community in the United States,” declares this town of 533.
Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels took a bold approach in naming Reynolds the future BioTown USA. With the implementation of the plan to convert Reynolds from a reliance on fossil fuels, a template will be set that simultaneously promotes energy security, rural development, profitable agriculture and a green thriving environment.

Emerging Water Shortages by Lester Brown

Africa’s Lake Chad, once a landmark for astronauts circling the earth, is now difficult for them to locate. Surrounded by Chad, Niger, and Nigeria—three countries with some of the world’s fastest-growing populations—the lake has shrunk by 95 percent since the 1960s. The soaring demand for irrigation water in that area is draining dry the rivers and streams the lake depends on for its existence. As a result, Lake Chad may soon disappear entirely, its whereabouts a mystery to future generations.

Every day, it seems, we read about lakes disappearing, wells going dry, or rivers failing to reach the sea. But these stories typically describe local situations. It is not until we begin to compile the numerous national studies—such as an 824-page analysis of the water situation in China, a World Bank study of the water situation in Yemen, or a detailed U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) assessment of the irrigation prospect in the western United States—that the extent of emerging water shortages worldwide can be grasped. Only then can we see the extent of water overuse and the decline it can bring.

To read the rest of this article: Emerging Water Shortages