Since there are no currently active contests, we have switched Climate CoLab to read-only mode.
Learn more at
Skip navigation
Share via:


Most waste CO2 buildings put out is in production. 15 million new buildings are expected by 2015. Retrofitting with clean energy solves this



This proposal would utilize  existing technologies and create them in a symbiotic relationship with a retrofitted building. The building would most likely be an old and abandoned building from the fallout of technology changes, ie urban steel manufacturing, former car plants,  buildings abandoned due to fire, etc. This would prevent the excess of carbon emissions from the production aspect of buildings, improve the neighborhoods around, and provide a hub of economic and sustainable development, mostly in areas with the highest social problems within post industrial cities. The innovative aspect is what these business parks would do. Piggy backing on the idea of a business park it would be designed to fit a certain design for the park that would limit the need for employees to commute more and encourage personal health which would trickle into social and population health. These would include small indoor farming aspects, restaurants that use that food, produce markets, exercise facilities, public spaces that utilize book share computer labs and bike share, and office space where any business could operate with variety of sizes depending on the space in question. By doing this the building would be self sufficient in more ways than just energy efficiency, the pure element of all people working there would help the operation cohesively work for everyone in it and for the community around it. The employees of all businesses would benefit by their location in one space by allowing a space in which most people find the need for commuting limited to just getting to the office. 

Category of the action

Building efficiency: Physical Action

What actions do you propose?

The building would first need to be retrofitted to be self sufficient. This would include technologies that already exist or need supporters to become realities. This includes rain gutters and rain catchment into large Sistine to produce grey water for farming and waste needs. It could be converted to allow turbines to produce hydroelectric power so that the use of that water would power its own use. It would use 3D solar cells that produce 200% more power than conventional solar cells. Involex windmills that produce 600% more energy than conventional windmills. Digesters that convert waste into natural gas for heating in the winter and cooking gas for restaurants, it would take all organic waste from agricultural, fecal and human produced waste- they also produce fertilizers that would be used for agricultural needs of the building and community. Geothermal heating and cooling that works as a radiator for the building, and by using nRadiance a nanotechnology that applies a film to windows for heating and cooling regulation. 

When designing the functions of the building, the design would be key for ultimate efficiency. If there is a basement element than it would be used for farming because it would be the easiest space for climate and lighting control, it would also allow for diversity of what's being grown. Crops would not need to be seasonally necessary so crops that are most commonly used in cooking could ideally be grown in there. Depending on the space it could be designed to have crops from around the world grown in certain spaces to limit on the need for importation, such as if one can utilize an enclosed space for rainforest crops there could be an indoor permaculture aspect to the building and could produce for instance, avocados or bananas which face endangerment do to overconsumption and species selection. The more diverse the ability to grow food the more diverse the restaurant aspect could be. The space around the building could be used for native edibles that could also be used for urban farmers to use for their purposes, creating a biodydnamic space outdoors that would help the function of the building.

A food court with many different foods that would hopefully rely on many of the crops from the agricultural aspect would be on the first or second floor. It would include all the typical food court aspects but if sourcing from the farm it would limit the need for food to be sent to from distant areas. By having "gourmet" coffee and tea shops and bakeries, and other foods that may have to import goods to provide their business we could assume that it would limit peoples commute to such places because it would be in their office and therefore their working there would sustain their business and sustain the demands of workers. The supply demand algorithm would be changed and prices could drop and increase peoples ability to get such items. Food acts a social aspect for all cultures and we could predict that by having restaurants with public, private, and outdoor eating areas we could generate more ingenuity and collaborations with the populations working in the business. It could also include a market where excess produce from indoor farm, or food that restaurants would normally be thrown out can be sold creating more food efficiency.

On the next floor, we would create exercise facilities for peoples use. Some of these spaces could by designed to have a powering effect on the building as well. For instance the gym could have spin room where the bikes would be installed into the building grid and the power of classes or individuals could help create power. There could be an interest design where power created could be tracked with other statistics like calories lost and heart rate. There could be quite a few rooms for exercise depending on the size as well. Yoga studios that double as dance studios. Having weight rooms, squash, basketball, indoor soccer,  the sky is the limit and while most may not produce energy, having a base that would have that possibility would go support the produce-your-own-energy ethic. Having exercise as an everyday ability for people in the building would ideally cut down on peoples commutes to the gym and hopefully encourage them to utilize them increasing the sufficiency of the exercise businesses. Companies could offer discounts to the gyms because the increase in personal health would cut down on insurance costs for business owners, and is a practice that many businesses are already changing to. Having the ability for team sports may create a dynamic team building aspect that connects people within each business to work together in friendly competition, a proven method for team development in many businesses already. All of these aspects would work to promote business dynamics while reducing their carbon footprint. 

Next would be office and public spaces. These would be much like traditional office spaces but would rely on the self created grid. Ideally you would want as much of a variety as regular office parks, thus to encourage the idea that this is a practice anyone can be a part of. They could have food catered from the restaurants and cafes, selected times to work out or play other offices, and a bevy of other choices the building would have to offer. They would have to rely on a no plastic or disposable mindset so that the waste produced would always be able to be digested into the energy producing digester. There would have to be a certain ethic, but hopefully due to the cuts in expenditures from their energy costs they could support those needs for employees. The public spaces would be intentionally designed rooms that people could use much like a library. There could be a computer lab for people working in the buildings that don't have that accessible, book shares designed for people to comfortably read and donate books. Clothing exchanges for people to donate clothes. Shower rooms where people can get clean after workouts, or after hopefully riding their bikes to work. 

The space outside would be designed for the most beneficial carbon sequestration that is around such as parking lot that are designed so that when in rains some can permeate the ground and the rest would (due to a slight grade in the parking) would flow into created wetlands. Keyline plowing could be used to increase the humous in the soil and have more carbon matter thus increasing crop success and reducing CO2 in the air. There could be bike exchanges for employees that may usually take public transportation but need to get somewhere nearby for a short amount of time. Running, walking, and whatever other kinds of paths. There would be a permaculture aspect to the outside reducing lawn space and increasing biodiversity. Bird sanctuaries, bee hives, butterfly gardens where native species can go indoors in cooler months to try and reestablish populations with higher survival rates. These could be operated on with conjunction of the urban farming and thus the management would ultimately have a profit for one of the businesses. There could be a greenhouse for certain plants, and an aquaponic system for fish production. The greenhouse could potentially use the nRadiance technology and operate all year.  

Overall the building would function as an alternative intentional community. By being self sufficient but operating for a variety of different businesses it is saying that there is a place for everyone in the fight against climate change. It would allow less green spaces to be built on, and save resources from being destroyed and not recycled. It would be multifaceted to encourage public and personal carbon reduction. Because of the self created energy grid the costs of the spaces inside the building could be cheaper and therefore give more success rates for start up businesses.

Who will take these actions?

Mostly it would have to start with a realty and contract construction company. From there it would include possible grants from the city to invest in some of the more large scale materials to make it off the grid. For instance grants for solar panels, wind turbines, rain catchments etc. The realtor would buy the buildings and possibly adjacent land and the contractor would begin retrofits. The business would need electricians, plumbers and construction workers with knowledge of green building. There would need to be LEED certified buildings meaning that there would hopefully be someone working for the design business that would be working with grants and the certification. Of course there would building inspectors and other government agencies that would supervise the construction as well. The realtors other main job after buying the spaces would be renting them out to the proper businesses. 

Where will these actions be taken?

This would be most effective in post industrial areas. Detroit would be a great place to start due to the population loss after the 08 economic collapse. It has the areas that are abandoned, the land space, and the need for economic and environmental development. While this ideal, this is also a business that could happen just about anywhere. 

How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

There is no real way to determine the amount of carbon reduced or hopefully sequestered because it would be completely reliant on the space utilized. There would most likely be some much limited carbon emissions in the retrofit process, but eventually it would go to a very low to zero carbon emissions. If this were to take off, it could work to retrofit non abandoned office buildings and the emissions would could be reduced significantly. For instance if an entire city block emits 1000 tons of carbon per year, but it was retrofitted to a zero emissions block of office buildings than it could be reduced to 30 tons or less depending on the reduction in peoples commuting habits. 

What are other key benefits?

Overall the intentional community office parks would offer a social and environmental examples for people to be a part of. Hopefully it would trickle out to the rest of the community and leave more of an imprint. It would increase biodiversity and human health. If done properly in certain areas that are contaminated because of industrial waste there could be a bioremediation aspect that would improve the landscape for future generations so that if there isn't a outdoor farming possibility there could be in the future. 

What are the proposal’s costs?

Again the costs would depend on the buildings in question. But to give an idea...

Building : $300,000 (Packard Motor Plant Detroit)

Building permits and exams: approximately $10,000

Cistern: $2,000 per one

Digester: $252,000

Turbines: $10,000/ turbine

Solar cells: $12,000

Native Plants: $5,000

Building Materials: $150,000

Again all of these are estimates and could be more or less depending on the site. But overall it would be a big investment that could costs up to millions of dollars, but would over time pay themselves off with the rent from the businesses inside. 



Time line

Well it would probably take multiple years to do it in the most sustainable way possible, but most of the production could probably be done in the course of a few months, be able to rent out most of the spaces, and then take the profits to keep investing in more of the building. From one successful office park this realty/contracting group could then buy maybe 1-2 more buildings and continue on with its practice. This also wouldn't be limited  to just one business. Many people could take this business model and be successful with it throughout the world. 

Related proposals