Bayou Preservation Association

Downtown Houston and the Buffalo Bayou, taken from Sabine Street. Photo credit:

Location: 3201 Allen Pkwy Houston, TX 77019
Description: Established in 1969, the Bayou Preservation Association is one of the oldest environmental protection organizations in Texas, aiming to protect the natural beauty & integrity of Houston’s waterways. According to its website, BPA’s mission is to “protect and restore the richness and diversity of [Houston’s] waterways through activism, advocacy,collaboration and education.”
Originally formed as the Buffalo Bayou Protection Association (BBPA) in the mid-1960s, by concerned citizens of Memorial Park.
Local residents were concerned by the rapid and apparently unmonitored changes to the Bayou ecosystem, primarily due to development and construction.
By 1969, the BBPA’s scope was broadened to include all bayous in the Houston & Harris County’s watershed.
Monitors 22 creeks, bayous, and bays, that feed into the watershed.
Current projects include the development of paddling trails, with the intention of raising public awareness through recreational provisions.
Advocates for low-impact development, which poses minimal interference to aquatic ecosystems.
Public campaigns include awareness on the effects of flushing prescription drugs, improperly disposing of plastic, and failing to manage stormwater runoff.
Conclusion: The Bayou Preservation Association is another example of a very efficient and highly effective non-profit organization, whose scope has broadened significantly over the decades. Although it’s clear that BPA’s relationship with the City of Houston has been contentious at times, it apparent the both parties stand to benefit from increased collaboration—particularly as aquatic ecosystems are stressed further due to local climatic changes and ongoing drought conditions.

Momentum Bay Associates

Momentum Bay Associates of Houston

Location: 1177 W Loop S Fwy #500 Houston, TX 77027
Description: Founded by Mark Robinson in 2002, Momentum Bay Associates is an energy & sustainability management consulting firm. Under the brand “Green Power 4 Texas,” the firm acts as an energy brokerage, specializing in the procurement and sale of green power.
According to its website, Momentum Bay has two primary goals: to help organizations & ultimately households create sustainable, long-term growth resulting in less harm, no harm & even good by going green profitably & practically; and to do the right thing to the right extent at the right time for the right reasons with the right attitude.
Clients divided into three major segments: design, construction, & real estate firms; businesses pursuing sustainability initiatives from diverse industries; and faith-based nonprofits.
+ Offers sustainability training program for businesses under the names ECO [BOOT CAMP] and GREEN [BOOT CAMP].
+ One of nine firms that reviews LEED submittals for the USGBC® with experience on over 400+ green building projects, providing eco-charrettes, LEED project management & documentation, green team training, energy modeling, daylight analysis, & computational fluid dynamics (CFD)
Conclusion: Our visit to Momentum Bay was definitely memorable, largely due to the charismatic presence of founder and CEO Mark Robinson. It was fascinating to hear the story of how the company came into being, and precisely how it carved out a niche in the marketplace. I have long held ambivalence towards the very concept of a consultancy firm, particularly in the sustainability “industry.”  However, it does seem that Momentum Bay has a keen interest in seeing the tangible results of their work, which I very much appreciate.

New Hope Housing: 2424 Sakowitz

New Hope Housing: 2424 Sakowitz

Location: 2424 Sakowitz St Houston, TX 77020
Description: New Hope Housing was founded in 1993 with the purpose of developing and operating single room occupancy (SRO) efficiency apartment housing stock in the greater Houston area. 2424 Sakowitz, located in Greater Fifth Ward/Denver Harbor,  is New Hope’s fifth property; it is also the first to be LEED certified (NC-Platinum) by the USGBC.
Designed by Val Glitsch, FAIA, LEED AP, the same architect who designed New Hope’s award-winning Canal Street Apartments.
Consists 166 single room occupancy units.
+ Xeriscape landscaping, including 100 native tree plantings.
+ Water-conserving appliances and fixtures.
+ Water-conserving irrigation system including rain water tanks
+ Water retention system
+ Efficient energy use with Energy Star appliances
+ Use of recycled materials
+ Roofing, paving, and plantings that reduce Heat-Island Effect
+ HVAC system for more efficient heating/cooling distribution
Conclusion: A recurring theme for non-profit organizations who maintain facilities is the notion of achieving long-term sustainability through reduction of ongoing/maintenance costs. New Hope Housing is no exception, as they sought to design a highly efficient building that had a lasting ROI for the organization and its donors. The mission and core values of New Hope Housing align perfectly with the tenets of social, economic, and environmental sustainability, and it’s refreshing to see that the metaphor is not lost on the organization.

Advanced Earthen Construction Technologies

Lawrence Jetter of AECB demonstrating a compression machine.

Location: 11595 S US Highway 181 San Antonio, TX 78223
Description: Founded in 1989 by Lawrence Jetter, Advanced Earthen Construction Technologies (AECT) manufactures equipment for the earthen construction industry. It specializes in portable compressed earth block machines, which are designed and built in-house.
Company was founded with the intention of re-establishing compressed earth block & adobe as the primary building material used around the world.
CEBs can be used to structurally support buildings up to two stories without supplemental bracing.
Soil has an insulation R-value that is unmatched by all other conventional building materials, although the system may not account for all of the qualitative benefits of CEBs.
Self-contained nature of the machines is intended to increase logistic and economic efficiency.
Earth block machines come in three separate sizes: 2001A, 3000, and 5000.
According to AECT’s website, the average rate of block per hour for each machine are: 5000 – 800-960 blocks, 3500 – 480-500 blocks, 2001A – 290-300 blocks.
Machines run on standard diesel engines, which are fully compatible with biodiesel.
The US military recently purchased portable compression machines from AECT, with the intention of developing an alternative to tent deployment.
Company adapts to the needs of its customers, responding to feedback regarding construction methods, curing times, and structural issues.
Conclusion: Mr. Jetter was perhaps the most engaging speaker with whom we had the opportunity to meet during the tour, and his passion for his industry was palpable. So, too, was his criticism of architects and engineers who have failed to embrace earthen construction technologies more widely. The problem, I would argue, is more one of awareness than conservatism (resistance to change). There does seem to be a stigma attached to earthen construction, however, which companies such as AECT are tirelessly working to dispel with their high quality products.

Lake|Flato Architects

Desert House in Santa Fe, New Mexico, by Lake|Flato Architects.

Location: 311 3rd St San Antonio, TX 78205
Description: Established in 1984, Lake|Flato is a commercial, residential, and prefab architecture firm that emphasizes sustainable design in projects that conserve resources and integrate seamlessly into the natural environment. Based in San Antonio, the firm has gained national recognition for its unique approach to designing for place.
Medium size firm with ~50 in-house designers.
Although Lake|Flato began with residential, the firm now serves commercial and public clients, as well.
In-house sustainability coordinator is consulting in the pre-planning phases of every project.
Post-occupancy sustainability monitors provides design feedback, which can be effectively utilized for future projects and revisions.
Assessments are derived from live web monitoring system, eMonitor, in addition to qualitative feedback from client.
By integrated sustainable principles into every step of the design process, the finished product is more organically sustainable than might otherwise be achieved.
Prefabricated housing division aims to produce houses that are modern, environmentally friendly, and economical.
Conclusion: We were treated with something more than a tour with Lake|Flato; rather, we were enveloped by their company culture, which was marked by a number of sustainable characteristics. A significant portion of the employees commute to work via bicycle, and they advocate for a cycling culture in the San Antonio area. The office itself is an example of adaptive reuse, converting an old car dealership into a remarkably intimate studio space. We also had the opportunity to meet with the firm’s in-house sustainability consultant, who was extremely knowledgeable and passionate about her work. I found Lake|Flato’s approach to sustainability to be very refreshing, and I would hope their model is being adopted by firms throughout the industry and beyond.

Build San Antonio Green

Build San Antonio Green front office.

Location: 118 Broadway St San Antonio, TX 78205
Description: Build San Antonio Green (BSAG) is San Antonio’s residential Green Building Program, developed specifically for San Antonio. In official partnership of several government and stakeholder organizations, the program operates as a fully autonomous non-profit organization. Similar to other green building programs, there are multiple levels of certification, based on conventional construction trends and the requirements of municipal building code. As the organization deals exclusively with residential construction in the San Antonio area, checklists include numerous hyper-local and site specific criteria. A diverse range of clients includes design/build architecture firms to large-scale home builders, including KB Homes. The program seems readily adaptable to other markets, and one would hope that a similarly blended global and local building code will be adopted in major urban areas throughout the United States.

Slow Food South Texas

Slow Food community garden at Lamar Elementary School.

Location: 201 Parland Pl San Antonio, TX 78209
Description: Slow Food South Texas is San Antonio’s local chapter of the international Slow Food movement. Found and current chapter president, Susan Rigg, met with us at Lamar Elementary School’s community garden, sponsored by the organization. She explained to us that her primary motivation for starting the local chapter was to disseminate knowledge about urban agriculture and gardening. However, Slow Food South Texas differs from other organizations in that it is “culinarily driven.” That is, edible plants are selected to be grown and harvested for the purpose of cooking. As a consequence, volunteers (both adults and children) learn about seasonality and the growth cycles of staple crops—essential knowledge that has been lost in recent generations. The phrase “community garden” is often synonymous will neglect and disrepair, but through integration of the garden into school curricula, encouraging parent involvement, and emphasizing the culinary arts, Slow Food South Texas has revivified the concept into a more sustainable social venture.