Capitalists with Heart

Sustainable Architects in Boston

As we strive to live more sustainably, our choice of home makes a huge impact on our environmental footprint in terms of energy use and the environmental impact of the home’s materials. Fortunately, sustainable design is becoming increasingly mainstream, offering a growing number of options that seamlessly incorporate form and function.

As we strive to live more sustainably, our choice of home makes a huge impact on our environmental footprint in terms of energy use and the environmental impact of the home’s materials. Fortunately, sustainable design is becoming increasingly mainstream, offering a growing number of options that seamlessly incorporate form and function.

Here’s a look at several Boston-area architecture firms with expertise in this arena.

  • Amacher & Associates Architects: Led by Franziska Amacher, LEEP AP and graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, this Cambridge-based firm offers architecture, space planning and sustainable development. Past projects include commercial and residential buildings including a zero-energy building, a renovation of a Beacon Hill brownstone, a green farmhouse in Maine and a solar two-family house.
  • Architerra: With all of its full-time professional staff LEED-accredited, Architerra has completed projects including the Massport cruise terminal in Boston, a new science and art center at Cambridge School of Weston and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center’s Wind Technology Testing Center. The firm has received awards including the Boston Society of Architects Award for Sustainable Design and a AIA COTE Top Ten Green Project.
  • Studio G Architects: Studio G Architects’ portfolio includes sustainable design projects including the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance Offices (using recycled building materials and components), Eco-Tourist Resort in Israel (featuring graywater and rainwater recycling and passive ventilation systems) and the Green Roof at Boston Latin School. The firm also has a tradition of preserving historic structures and, in some cases, adapting them for new uses.
  • Reverse Architecture: Somerville-based Reverse Architecture has designed homes and commercial spaces as well home additions with features such as a “geothermal” ground source heat pump and LED lighting. One notable project, Condensation House in Twentynine Palms, California, is designed to extract and design water vapor from every potential source. The firm’s founder, Carl Solander, LEED AP also lectures at MIT.
  • ZeroEnergy Design: Based on Boston’s Milk Street, ZeroEnergy Design (or ZED for short) offers green architecture and mechanical design services, working on new home construction and renovations. ZED helps residential clients achieve energy performance targets such as net zero energy (using on-site energy production such as solar photovoltaic to match energy consumption), passive house standard (using 70-90 percent less energy for heating and cooling than a conventional structure) and deep energy retrofit (improving energy performance by at least 50 percent). It also has LEED-accredited professionals and LEED for Homes Green Rater on staff.

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New Beginnings Announces Plans for New Youth Drop-In Center

New Beginnings, Inc., the Lewiston-based nonprofit serving homeless and runaway youth announced that they have raised over $1 million of the $1.25 million needed to renovate the former Jewish Community Center on College Street in Lewiston.

The announcement was made with over 50 members from the community on-hand on Friday, February 13th, in a noontime ceremony. This will now serve as the home of the New Beginnings Youth Drop-In Center.

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The announcement was made jointly with the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce. Chip Morrison, Chamber president, served as emcee during Friday’s ceremony. Morrison mentioned the special place that the Jewish Community Center holds for many local residents.

“So many people in this community have positive memories of this place—as a daycare, community center, and so much more,” said Morrison. “I am just thrilled to see that it will soon come back to life and serve families again.”

The new facility will house New Beginnings’ Outreach Program. It will also be a place where young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness can come for basic needs—things like a warm meal, a hot shower, and a safe space off the streets. The Outreach program has outgrown their current space in downtown Lewiston.

Kristen Cloutier, Lewiston Ward 5 city councilor spoke to the successful fundraising efforts behind the capital campaign by New Beginnings.

“It’s impressive that New Beginnings has already raised $1 million of their goal of $1.25 million,” said Cloutier. “I’m happy to be here this morning celebrating a new beginning and a safe haven for countless youth in this community.”

New Beginnings purchased the College Street building at the end of 2011. Plans are for it to also serve as their new agency home and headquarters. There will also be space for community and nonprofit classrooms, and a full gymnasium big enough to accommodate a variety of services, events, as well as community-wide trainings.

Support for New Beginnings’ building campaign has come from local businesses, individuals, and private foundations—including the John T. Gorman Foundation and a $500,000 grant from the Next Generation Foundation of Maine.

“This impact of this grant is enormous for our agency and the 700 young people we serve each year,” said New Beginnings Executive Director Bob Rowe. “Before this award, we planned to complete the renovation in phases over several years.  We are so grateful to the Next Generation Foundation for allowing us to proceed with renovating the whole project at once, so that we can focus on our core mission of helping vulnerable youth and families.”

More Information about the project can be found at the New Beginnings website, or by calling Development Director, Rachel Spencer-Reed, at 207-795-4077.

New Beginnings is an Electricity Maine  Power To Help partner. As a Maine owned company, we share in the responsibility to build community.      In addition to financial support, Electricity Maine also provides other resources to help non-profits be successful, including technical expertise in areas such as marketing and IT, as well as volunteers for a variety of activities.

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Waterville Creates! Offers Up Arts and Culture

Downtowns in the United States began emptying out during the 1960s and early 1970s. This suburban exodus, encouraged by federal programs like urban renewal, along with the weakening of America’s social contract, left places like Waterville with urban-like infrastructure and buildings, but little economic vitality centered in its downtown district.

With two exits off Maine’s major north/west thruway, Interstate 95, Waterville looks just like countless other places located along America’s car corridors. Retail establishments and chain eateries with their ubiquitous drive-thrus make it all-too-easy for motorists to jump off, and never take the time to visit the rest of the city, including its historic downtown.

With the proliferation of strip malls and big box centers along Kennedy Memorial Drive and the section of Main Street near the interstate, Waterville’s once vibrant retail district bordering the Kennebec River was left with vacant storefronts and not much else to lure visitors. This accelerated downtown’s downward economic spiral. The trend towards sprawl development has continued unabated for the past 40 years in this Central Maine city, an hour north of Portland.

Like other mill communities located along the rivers of Northern New England, Waterville was once a textile center, its mills occupying prime real estate along the waterfront. During the first part of the 19th century, C.F. Hathaway saw that Waterville’s surrounding farming communities were a source of cheap labor. That and the loyalty of a workforce that was 95 percent female, kept America’s oldest men’s shirtmaker humming along after others had closed. Then, at the dawn of the 21st century, a globalized economy and the lure of even cheaper offshore labor deemed Waterville’s workforce and average hourly wages of $7.50 too costly for maximizing profits. The Warnaco Group, Inc., the company the bought it to squeeze out the last remaining profits, tried closing the factory in 1996. A group of investors was secured by then Maine governor, John McKernan, managing to limp along until closing for good in 2001, after 165 years.

Nate Rudy, the newly-hired executive director of Waterville Creates!, a downtown-based nonprofit focused on facilitating closer collaboration among the city’s arts groups, is bullish about the role of arts and culture in reviving downtown Waterville. He also touched on national trends and demographics that are once again viewing urban space and walkability in a favorable light. Millennials in particular want places where they can live and work in close proximity to one another.

“After World War II, people were looking to get as far away as possible from those dense neighborhoods that they grew up in,” said Rudy.

Rudy arrives at this new role in Waterville after serving for nearly four years as Gardiner’s economic and community development director. Waterville Creates! gathers a diverse mix of arts and community groups in Waterville, and across the Kennebec Valley region. The new organization was formed under the umbrella of the Waterville Regional Arts and Community Center (WRACC), a nonprofit group that owns The Center building at 93 Main Street, in what was once the former Sterns Department Store. Rudy, indicating that this a re-branding of sorts, also recognizes the importance of partnering more intentionally in Waterville.

“Technically, we are still the Waterville Regional Arts and Community Center—doing business as Waterville Creates!—so there’s no real change there,” Rudy said. “However, arts and culture have the potential to be a community and economic driver for the City of Waterville and the Kennebec Valley. The role of Waterville Creates! will be to promote the existing arts and cultural resources and organizations who are part of this community.”

Jennifer Olsen, director for Waterville Main Street, serves on the Waterville Creates! board. She is excited about this new emphasis on arts and culture, and the push to bring even greater vitality to the Main Street business district at the heart of Waterville’s downtown.

“I think Nate’s economic development background, as well as his passion for the arts make him an ideal fit for this new position,” said Olsen.

Waterville Main Street is a partner organization of Waterville Creates!. Their role since 2001, when the city was designated a Main Street Maine community, has been to advance efforts in developing downtown into a thriving and energetic commercial hub, centered on social, cultural and entertainment destinations.

“Waterville has some wonderful assets and arts infrastructure,” said Olsen. “We have the Opera House, as well as the influence and role that Colby (College) plays in promoting the arts,” she said.

Olsen mentioned that Waterville serves as a regional downtown, drawing people from across the river in Winslow, as well as from surrounding communities. She sees the city’s potential as a destination for historic architecture, with events like the Maine International Film Festival, entering its 17th year, and potential to expend the arts and cultural activities spearheaded by Waterville Creates!.

Mural-Downtown Waterville
Mural-Downtown Waterville

Rudy has concerns about the ancillary way that downtowns have been viewed by economic developers, some local business leaders, and policymakers. Regional economic decisions, like FirstPark, centered economic hopes on suburban business models involving one person driving one automobile—at the very same time that downtown leases were affordable and available. The suburban build-out that’s taken place over the past three decades bypassed tangible assets in the community.

“I think there’s been a real lapse in aesthetics in public policy in the planning and building of our physical environment,” said Rudy. “I think this is manifested—with the worst examples of this in terms of form and aesthetics—in the urban renewal that occurred during the 1960s.”

This was when economic vitality began leaving Waterville’s downtown, as well as former downtown districts across the state and nation.

The community’s mill structures, like the former Hathaway mill, and the death of textile manufacturing, also contributed to the hollowing out of downtown business districts like Waterville’s.

“Without sounding overly political on this—globalization played a role, as did cost-cutting, and corporate structures that were focused more on short-term profits, rather than people and workers and what was best for communities,” he said.

Assets like the ones downtown Waterville has could be leveraged in attracting a younger demographic to the area at a time when Maine is growing older by the day. Rudy ticked off several of these:

  • Waterville’s physical proximity to the rivers; the convergence of the Sebasticook and Kennebec Rivers (just east of the Carter Memorial Bridge, between Waterville and Winslow)
  • The mills and downtown’s historic architecture
  • The sense of place that Waterville’s past history represents, giving residents a sense of who they are
  • Downtown represents ties to that past, and the history of how communities were formed

Part of the conversation also broached an important topic when discussing “arts and culture,” and how sometimes, people feel that they don’t know enough about them to participate in events centered in that sphere. Rudy elaborated on this, especially in relation to the role Waterville Creates! plays in including, rather than excluding people.

“The challenge becomes how to create places that are inclusive and that attract people that aren’t necessarily all like one another,” said Rudy. “Too often, you have these ‘educated’ discussions that can be intimidating and leave many on the fringes of the conversation.”

Rudy thinks that while it’s essential that Waterville has these conversations, incorporating them into an array of arts and cultural events, along with education about “what is art, it’s equally important that they remain inclusive and open to everyone.

“I think these are important discussions to have in the community,” said Rudy. “I also think Waterville Creates! is the facilitator that can bring people together in having them.”

Waterville Creates! being able to facilitate this offers the potential of bringing new energy to Waterville’s downtown. There is also the real potential represented by this, because in our 21st century world, there are fewer and fewer places where this is happening. Also, downtowns like Waterville’s are attractive to both younger Mainers, seniors, as well as others, looking for places where they can live, work, and connect, without relying on automobiles to make this happen.

Waterville Creates!, focused on Arts and Culture in downtown Waterville.
Waterville Creates!, focused on Arts and Culture in downtown Waterville.

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How to Fix up Your Fireplace To Get Maximum Warmth Possible

During the winter, we like to sit by the cozy fire. Here are some tips on how to fix up your fireplace to get maximum warmth possible.

When you think about staying warm in the winter, one image that comes to mind is sitting curled up in front of a crackling fireplace – especially with all the snow that New England has been seeing recently. What you might not realize is that your favorite cozy spot could be a huge source of heat loss, even when it’s fired up.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, a wood-burning fireplace is an inefficient way of heating your home since most of the heat goes right out the chimney. And, it’s estimated that your heating bill could increase as much as 30 percent if you’re not properly using your fireplace, or leaving the damper open when you’re not burning a fire, as reported by Zillow.com. That’s because even though you may feel warmth in the immediate area surrounding the  fireplace, your other rooms will experience a drop in temperature as the warm air is drawn up the chimney. That will force your home heating system to run more, thus increasing your bill.

So how can you enjoy the aesthetic appeal and comforting warmth of your fireplace without losing too much heat? Here are some strategies on how to fix up your fireplace to get maximum warmth…

Do a damper check

If you think about it logically, the chimney allows airflow so that smoke can escape when you light a fire, but when not in use, you’re letting the warm air from your home out. In other words, if you don’t close your damper (the small door that opens up the chimney flue) when your fireplace is not lit, it’s like losing heat through an open window or front door.

Caulk it

As with windows and doorways, you want to do your best to make sure that air isn’t escaping through cracks or crevices in your fireplace. Caulk around the hearth, and make sure that the flue damper is properly sealed as well. By making this part of your home’s winterizing routine, you’ll be able to heat your home more efficiently.

Keep heat in

An air-tight tempered glass door can help prevent heat loss, even though it might not look as pretty as an open fire. Experts also recommend closing the doors in the room when your fireplace is lit and cracking a nearby window to reduce heat loss.

Install a heat exchanger

Consider upgrading your fireplace with a heat-air exchange system to blow warmed air back into the room. Think of it as recycling warm temperatures.

Seal it

If you’re not lighting the fireplace, you can purchase a chimney balloon, which will block off most of the opening to prevent warm air from escaping. If you really have no intention of lighting any fires, however, you should plug and seal your fireplace flue for good.


Diligent upkeep and maintenance of your fireplace will save you money over the course of a long winter, so you can continue enjoying those evenings in front of the fire without burning a hole in your budget.

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Business Capitalists with Heart

Follain: Bringing Natural Healthy Skin Products to Boston

Tara Foley had a vision of immersing herself in learning about natural healthy skin products. Five years later, her dream became reality in Boston.
Follain is a healthy beauty store with locations in Boston and Nantucket.

Tara Foley already did yoga most days and shopped at her local farmer’s market, but several years ago when she started researching the beauty products she used, she quickly learned they didn’t fit with an otherwise clean, healthy lifestyle. “On average, we use about 15 products a day, and most of the products I was using had a lot of toxic chemicals in them,” she says.

Foley tested products with safer ingredients, but discovered that many of them just weren’t as effective. She began a blog, The Natural Chemist, in which she reviewed the products that did work, and quickly discovered that people needed a place to buy those products.

She quit her job at a law firm in 2010 so she could “fully immerse myself in this world and learn about natural healthy skin products.” First stop was a lavender farm in France. Through Willing Workers on Organic Farms, Foley worked at the farm so she could “see how something that we put on our skin was brought to life.” Next, she moved to Maine, where she worked for a small skincare manufacturer and learned about packaging, then to Wellesley, Massachusetts, where she earned an MBA from Babson College in 2013.

Through a national business plan competition, Foley received seed capital to open Follain, a cozy retail shop in Boston’s South End. The location was ideal in part because of Boston’s proximity to so many researchers and health professionals.

 Select products (think: liquid hand & body soap) are available for refill in-stores, as Follain aims to remedy the immense plastic waste generated by bottles.
Select products (think: liquid hand & body soap) are available for refill in-stores, as Follain aims to remedy the immense plastic waste generated by bottles.

Tara Foley - Founder
Tara Foley – Founder

Follain’s white-tiled counter and vintage apothecary tools create a chic, clean backdrop for the store’s selection of nontoxic skincare, body and hair products, as well as cosmetics, all from US-based brands. Foley thinks not only about the products we put in our bodies but the packaging that gets discarded afterwards, so she created a refill program where customers purchase a container and bring it back to refill with a rotating selection of liquid hand and body soap (as of February, the current soap on tap contained only coconut oil, olive and essential oils). Foley says she “became really excited about the opportunity to fix the packaging part of the beauty industry” while studying at Babson.

Since opening in July 2013, Follain has become so popular that Foley also set up temporary pop-up shops in Nantucket, Washington, DC and Wellesley. For her, though, it’s not just about selling lotions and soaps (“you can make skincare products at home,” she tells me), but about raising awareness about safe products. To that end, she launched the Follain Safety Pledge so that people can learn more about product ingredients and safety. Discarding the products they’ve used most of their lives can be daunting, but as Foley says, “we are trying to help people and hold people’s hands through it.”

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Clarity & Transparency On Your Electric Bill

ENH Power built its customer base of nearly 47,000 customers by exceeding industry norms and expectations. We encourage any review of legislation that makes it clear what is expected of suppl

New Hampshire lawmakers are undertaking an effort to make electric bills easier to understand and bring increased clarity and transparency.  SB 170 would require the PUC to redesign the billing format for residential electric bills and the PUC website.   As outlined in a recent article in the New Hampshire Union Leader, proposed changes include but are not limited to:

*Include the term and expiration date of the rate

*include the term and expiration date of the rate

*the cancellation fee, if one applies

*People buying a variable rate from a competitive supplier would have to be notified on their bill of the fact that they purchased a variable rate

*The same bill would have to inform the consumer of the default service rate offered by the regulated utility

At ENH Powwer we are still reviewing some of the specifics of the proposed legislation, including long term impact especially in the areas of technology.

As far as rate transparency and educating about energy choice, ENH Power built its customer base of nearly 47,000 customers by exceeding industry norms and expectations. We encourage any review of legislation that makes it clear what is expected of supply companies, utilities and consumers.

In other states in which we do business, including Maine as Electricity Maine and Massachusetts as Provider Power Mass, where we have a combined 150,000 additional customers, we have been vocal about our support for rule changes that balances the rights of consumers with the ability of reputable electricity supply companies to be competitive.

To learn more about the Provider Power family of companies and our company history and commitment to New England, please visit www.providerpower.com

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Is it Time to Pull the Plug on Your Garage Fridge?

Remember that old joke: “Is your refrigerator running? Well then you better catch it!” Now, we should be rethinking that old joke. It's time to unplug.

Remember that old joke: “Is your refrigerator running? Well then you better catch it! The update should be: “Is your garage refrigerator running? Well then you better unplug it!”

Do you still have that massive old fridge consuming prime real estate in the garage? You probably used it over Super Bowl weekend to keep your beer cold while you cheered on our Patriots—but maybe that should be the end of its run, because garage space is not all it’s consuming!

Here are some of the pitfalls of keeping an old garage fridge:

  • It’s an energy hog. This is the main reason, of course. The strides that have been made in energy-efficiency over the past decade are staggering. Today’s refrigerators are up to 75 percent more energy efficient than models produced in the 1970s and 80s. In fact, if all refrigerators sold in the United States were ENERGY STAR® certified, the energy cost savings would grow to more than $1.4 billion each year and 19 billion pounds of annual greenhouse gas emissions would be prevented, equivalent to the emissions from 1.8 million vehicles.
  • It costs money. The EPA estimates it costs about $205 to run a 1980s refrigerator every year, compared to $50 for a 2013 ENERGY STAR®® qualified model.
  • One is better than two. If you really need more space on a consistent basis, consider getting a larger fridge rather than running two. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient America, one fridge is more efficient that two larger ones.
  • You probably don’t use it very often. Think about how often you really use it—probably just over the holidays or for parties. And, with the exception of summer parties, most other holiday times offer you the option of the “outdoor refrigerator.” Yes, soda stays just as cold when left outside in cold temps as it does in the refrigerator. And during the warmer months, tossing your drinks in a cooler with a bag of ice is a cheap and simple alternative to using a refrigerator.
  • Your garage is one of the worst places to have a refrigerator. Few garages are insulated so that means they are even warmer in the summer, forcing the fridge to work that much harder.
  • Your fridge is likely using outdated and inefficient technology. One study estimated that 15 percent of U.S. homes have a second refrigerator that is at least 20 years old – when standards were far less energy efficient.
  • It’s easy to recycle. If you do get rid of it, don’t just take it to the dump. Check here for safe options for recycling it. According to ENERGY STAR®, recycling an older or second refrigerator properly can lead to savings of $300 to $700 over a five-year period, and avoid up to 20,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions.

Still feel like you need a second fridge? Consider unplugging it when not in use. Or purchase an ENERGY STAR® rated fridge – just be sure to shop carefully. Assess which features you most need and make the most energy-efficient choice among the different ENERGY STAR® styles – for example, an over/under rather than a side-by-side style. And then, make sure you use it efficiently.

The best strategy? Say goodbye to your garage fridge, and hello to lower energy bills and a cleaner environment.

 

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Oil Prices: Relief for New England

While we’ve had it all this winter – snow, blizzards, cold temps – there’s one seasonal mainstay we haven’t seen, and that’s super high heating bills. Why is that, you ask?

While  we’ve  had it all this winter – snow, blizzards, ice storms, freezing temperatures – there’s one seasonal mainstay  we haven’t seen, and that’s super high heating bills (relatively speaking). Thanks to oil prices that took a dip, oil costs came down (along with our auto gas prices, too). In fact, at times oil barrel prices  plummeted to below $50 a barrel for the first time since 2009; in the middle of last year, they were up over $100.

As heating oil prices start tick back up-the big question is,  was this winter an anomaly? What can we expect over the next 12-18 months (and beyond)?

Take a look at some of the factors influencing the drop in heating oil costs, and see what the experts are saying about the future.

The world just doesn’t need that much oil.

It’s the old economics lesson of having too much supply for the amount of demand, and therefore, a drop in price. “A lot of unused oil was simply being stockpiled away for later. So, in September, prices started falling sharply,” explains an article on Vox.com. Decreased demand could also be the result of improved energy efficiency throughout the U.S. and the world. To compare oil demand and oil supply, take a look at the International Energy Agency’s World Oil Market Report chart.

Saudi Arabia decided to stay the course.

In a move that surprised much of the world, Saudi Arabia, backed by OPEC, made the decision this fall to keep producing the same amount of oil despite the surplus. And it began reducing prices for its biggest oil buyers. “The move signaled that the world’s largest exporter would rather defend its market share than prop up prices,” explains a report in Bloomberg.com.

U.S. production is up.

Another big player in the oil price game is our very own nation, which has become the world’s largest oil producer. CNBC.com says that the U.S., mainly Texas and North Dakota, will account for 75 percent of the increase in global oil production this year. By reducing its dependence on oil and importing much less from across the sea, the U.S. has its own stockpile.

Middle East unrest isn’t affecting oil prices like it has in the past.

Whereas a few years back, conflicts in that region used to drive oil prices up because production was halted, these days, it’s not having much effect. Says The Economist: “Turmoil in Iraq and Libya—two big oil producers with nearly 4m barrels a day combined—has not affected their output. The market is more sanguine about geopolitical risk.”

So what does this mean for you, the consumer? It’s hard to predict if this winter’s oil prices were as low as they’ll go,  and how long it will be before it begins to climb back up. Fortune.com thinks the low(er) prices will be with us for a while, based on similar price drop patterns that took place in the 1980s. That could mean economic doom for some nations reliant on higher oil prices like Russia and Venezuela. In addition there are some U.S. states who have suffered from the lower oil prices, refineries were shut down , employees let go.

 

 

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