The idea of sustainable communities got a boost recently when a working group of major philanthropic and financial institutions, called Investors for Sustainable Communities, announced an effort to coordinate up to $150 million in investments for building stronger communities that are grounded in more resilient, regional economies so they provide opportunities to all residents. Of course a major thrust of the effort is to develop communities that also firmly embrace environmental stewardship.
Investors for Sustainable Communities is sponsored by Living Cities, a consortium of 22 of the world’s largest foundations and financial institutions working to revitalize America’s cities. Participants include national philanthropies such as the Ford, Surdna and Rockefeller foundations, regional funders such as the McKnight Foundation, and financial institutions such as Citi and Morgan Stanley.
The working group’s three-part approach is known in policy circles as equitable transit-oriented development or (equitable TOD), and it seeks to: develop healthier, more affordable neighborhoods that offer convenient and safe access to jobs, stores, schools and services. The effort also expects to expand transportation options connecting these neighborhoods to the regional economy, for example to job centers, and to ensure that all people—regardless of income, race, age, ability, and similar considerations, can participate in development decisions and share in the benefits.
Pablo Farias, chairman of Living Cities and vice president of Economic Opportunity and Assets at the Ford Foundation had this to say:
“Transit-oriented development is a powerful way to make metro areas, the engines of our economy, more competitive, inclusive and environmentally sustainable. Just as important, it offers a chance for low-income people to contribute to and share in the benefits of metropolitan growth.”
From 2008 through 2010, participants in Investors for Sustainable Communities invested over $100 million in equitable TOD. Now the participants will coordinate their investments, so they can leverage their money with federal grants from places like HUD. This is a three year effort. Lee Sheehy, director of the Region and Communities Program at the McKnight Foundation, and co-chair of the working group, pointed out how this will make better use of capital. He said:
“As America begins to rebuild its economy following the great recession, we need to ensure we are laying the foundation for lasting and broadly-shared prosperity. Our ability to innovate and create jobs depends on our ability to connect business, capital and talent as efficiently as possible. China and India get this, and are way ahead of us. We need to grow our options in order to compete.”
All in all it sounds like these projects will entail a significant effort in the transit area and in placing residential structures near transit. There is much more at the link in the blog, and my take on it is this effort might serve as a model for other community-based efforts across the country.
Modular cabling is making inroads in the commercial sector since it gives owners plug and play advantages. For example, you can use raised floor installations for call centers, regular office environments, classrooms and anyplace where you need flexibility in connecting and disconnecting equipment. But there’s more to them. Communications Integrators, Inc. recently pointed out the sustainable aspects of these systems, and in particular using them in place of conventional home-run cabling.
Apparently, in a recent study that ranked building elements for their impact on air pollution, global warming and toxic releases, electrical cabling is in the top eight worst offenders. Lead used in the PVC lining of electrical wiring is the biggest worry, the disposal of which can release lead particles 10,000 times the allowed level for humans. By using these plug and play systems the need for cutting and disposing of PVC and other electrical wiring is greatly reduced. But, there are other advantages too, as pointed out by J. Glynn Gross, CEO of Communications Integrators, Inc.:
“Our underfloor and dataflex are huge assets to builders in reducing labor costs and left over scrap from electrical and low voltage cabling since everything is pre-manufactured at our warehouse in Tempe, Ariz. With electrical cabling being a $20.5 billion industry…costs and product efficiency are significant considerations in building projects… (Our) products are adaptable and have helped large and small scale projects meet sustainability requirements and flexibility all the while reducing costs.”
The company showcases an installation in a Las Vegas casino that allows an infinite configuration of slot machines and tables with all the flexibility an owner might want. So I guess if the concept has made it in a house of odds, where the house always wins, it’s probably not much of a gamble, and might be worth a look for those projects requiring lots of flexibility in cabling.
Well, we’re right in the middle of a mass of earnings announcements for Q3 and if one of the early ones out of the gate is any indication the news might not be too bad for construction. Universal Forest Products announced third-quarter 2010 net sales of $480.6 million, compared to net sales of $457.8 million for the same period of 2009. Net earnings for the third quarter of 2010 were $2.6 million, or $0.13 per diluted share, compared to net earnings of $10.1 million, or $0.51 per diluted share, for the same period last year.
The company grew sales in three of its four markets: Sales to industrial and manufactured housing customers increased 19.3 percent and 18.2 percent, respectively, during the quarter, while sales to site-built construction customers rose 1.6 percent. Only Do-It-Yourself/retail saw a sales decrease, of 7.7 percent, due to weak demand that resulted in slow retail sales. Net earnings were impeded by the spike in lumber costs, which occurred in the spring.
While lumber prices stabilized during the third quarter of 2010, inventories were built earlier in the year—when lumber prices were up as much as 52 percent over the previous year. Sales however, didn’t materialize so at the end of June, the company’s inventory consisted primarily of higher-cost lumber, which adversely affected profits in the third quarter. Since then it has sold the product, and by the end of the third quarter its inventories were made of lumber purchased at a much lower cost.
Michael B. Glenn, the CEO, thought this year’s lumber market was pretty tough to manage through, saying:
“This was the most challenging lumber market I’ve seen in my 36 years with the company, and I’m proud of the way our people managed through it. Frankly, this type of market has the potential to wipe out an entire year’s profits for most companies that operate in our industries.”
He credited the company’s agility and its business model for saving the day. And, he pointed out the company has about $5 million more cash than debt, so he’s confident about being ready to navigate the markets. Earnings announcements are due out this week also from Eagle Materials and TrueBlue.