Zone 4

Tangible Assets, Close to Home

Here is where we are quite literally bringing it all home. Home is where the heart is, and it’s also one of the best areas for making profitable investments. Leveraging your own experience, energy, and sweat equity, along with money you have saved or borrowed, can pay big returns. Investment could be in one’s home, in home improvements such as adding an in-law or rental unit to your house, in energy efficiency and renewable energy generation, or for other ends, such as building the physical elements of household and community resilience. Converting financial assets into tangible assets is the distinctive feature of this zone, and at the same time, much of what you do in this basket offers intangible rewards such as pride of ownership and accomplishment.

Key areas of Zone 4 focus

  • Home/house/property
  • Local infrastructure/commons (parks, utilities, etc.)
  • Energy systems/choices
  • Local shopping & sharing

New programs link cities with science experts to tackle resiliency challenges

Two new programs aim to get subject-matter experts linked up with local and regional governments to take on their most pressing resiliency challenges.  Andy Revkin offers up his typically link-infused overview of these efforts, centered on Thriving Earth Exchange, which is networking to bring in experts to help cities with specific issues such as flood risks to food distribution systems, adapting to extreme heat, responding to drought, and many others.  Meanwhile, the Obama White House rolled out a similar program dubbed The Resilience Dialogues, an “online consultative service will help communities find, use, and understand information, tools, and programs to support their climate-resilience needs.”

Both of these programs are actively soliciting requests from cities for expert guidance, and subject-matter experts willing to share their insights.  If you’re active in your local community’s transition, resiliency, or climate response programs, check them out!  Start with Revkin’s introduction, then dig in.

Tags: , , , , , , ,


Permaculture Transition Manual: a new guide for smallholders

Acclaimed permaculture teacher Ross Mars has just released a new book that will be a valuable resource for the burgeoning crop of small farmers working on modest landholdings, as well as for people moving toward increased self-reliance on their property while maintaining their jobs away from home.  As Mars notes, “Today in North America, the fastest growing forms of agriculture are small peri-urban farms of less than 20 acres growing vegetables for market.”

The Permaculture Transition Manual: A Comprehensive Guide to Resilient Living is a hefty (450 page) resource that features in-depth guidance on all elements of permaculture design and personal homestead resilience—land, labor, wildlife, energy, and your own mindset—as well as case studies of four diverse projects.  We fully support Ross’s underlying respect for the value of permaculture’s insights:

Permaculture connected many streams of the world’s traditional knowledge with modern forms of science and urged ordinary people everywhere to continue that lineage of empirical investigation. The books were a prospectus for a worldwide distributed experiment in ecological subsistence agriculture for the post-industrial world.

That experiment is now over 30 years old, and I will argue that its fruits are abundant and that results have validated the original thesis well enough that we should expect it to meet the needs of a new generation of garden farmers whether they be former pastoralists settled into towns in Botswana or industrial workers made redundant by energy descent in Boston.

Check out the Table of Contents and Introduction. Then go get some dirt under your fingernails!

Tags: , , , , ,


Deep retrofits redux: crunching the numbers

Last quarter my article on “Deep Retrofits, Broad Paybacks” generated several questions about how these types of retrofit add value to a house over time. How does a deep energy retrofit compare to something like a kitchen remodel? Is it worth the cost of doing the retrofit? If I spend $50,000 on a deep retrofit will it add $50,000 to the value of my house? Probably not. Or, it depends. Maybe. Possibly. It’s a tricky question, with some complex answers.

Let’s start with whether you plan to sell your house soon or not. If you are planning to sell in the next few years, or are forced to sell, the ROI picture is probably pretty bleak. We can draw some clues from other big remodel projects. Looking at the numbers might scare you. At mid-range national averages for 2015, adding a steel door is the only remodel project that adds value. That is, you’ll recoup a little more than you spent to buy and install it. (Move quickly before a toddler dings up that new door!) All of the other remodel projects are a losing proposition. It’s even worse for upscale projects, where the best ROI is upgrading to fiber-cement siding, and it doesn’t recoup even 85% of the $15,000 average cost of the project.

But anyone spending $100,000 on a deluxe kitchen upgrade isn’t doing it to make money when they sell – they’re doing it to improve their quality of life while living in the house. A temporary reduction in full value because of a quick sale isn’t anyone’s best financial plan. I think this will be true for deep retrofits as well.

Some remodels do add value even when a house is sold soon after,

Tags: , , , ,


NZ community buys long-private beach via crowdfunding

It’s an all-too-familiar scenario: a prized corner of your local landscape is suddenly up for sale, slated for houses or a hotel.  Maybe it’s a place where generations of locals have had informal access, or perhaps it’s always been kept tantalizingly private.  Either way, the new plan is a step too far. . . . and it sure would be great if it were saved by a conservation group, or for a state park, or maybe just by a public-minded conservationist.

But nowadays, we don’t have to wish for a savior: a community effort in New Zealand recently made history by crowdfunding over $2 million to purchase an 18-acre beach and open this pristine beauty to the public!  The effort caught wider public attention, thanks both to the novelty of the initiative and its location near a popular National Park, and attracted donations from 40,000 people—along with a modest commitment from the New Zealand government—to outbid nearly a hundred other prospective buyers.

That’s what we call some inspired Zone 4/9 investing, coming together to protect an important tangible asset for the people, using the latest evolutionary finance models! Chalk one up for the power of creative thinking by two locals who organized the crowdfunding effort after a holiday conversation.  “At 10:57 last night we delivered a pristine piece of beach and bush into the hands of all New Zealanders to look after and to cherish and to treasure and enjoy forever,” announced Duane Major, one of the two, after the successful fulfillment of their ambitious dream.

 

Tags: , , , ,


Preparedness tips for non-preppers

OK, so you’re totally on board with The Resilient Investor‘s goal of being “ready for anything”—you’ve clarified your own idea of where the world seems to be headed, while also realizing that you don’t really know when or how one of the countless wild cards in play might change the game in fundamental ways.  You get that focusing significant energy Close to Home will pay off no matter how the future unfolds; perhaps you’re also committed to pushing our society in those enticing Evolutionary directions.

And yes, you recognize that there is a chance of painful disruptions to life here on American Easy Street.  Maybe you think any hiccups are unlikely to be severe . . . or you harbor a secret dread that’s too nebulous to really figure out how to address.  You certainly aren’t into being a serious Prepper, stockpiling supplies, fine-tuning a “go-bag,” and overlaying that kind of dire filter onto your day to day life.  If it comes to that, you figure we’re all toast, or we’ll all be in it together, and there are better ways to spend your time in the here and now.  But you also have a niggling sense that you could be a little more prepared for a  societal speed bump: it’s not so hard to imagine some sort of grid snafu (cyber-attack or solar flare) or regional weather or terror event that could make things rough for a week, or maybe even a few.  Just-in-time supply chains, vulnerable water supplies, our reliance on fuels and electricity. . . yeah, there are a few weak links out there.

While we’ve pointed to writers and resources that aim to help you prepare for various Breakdown scenarios, if you don’t really identify as a “Doomer,” you’ve probably held off on digging into all that very deeply.  Well, here’s a less-scary entry point for those of you that have been thinking you really consider doing something: a well-curated collection of The Best Emergency Preparedness Supplies from the good folks at Sweethome/Wirecutter.  

Tags: , ,


Deep retrofits offer wide-reaching returns

I have long advocated for deep energy retrofits; as we developed the resilient investing system, this became an obvious Zone 4 activity (tangible assets, close to home). “Remodel your house so that it uses dramatically less energy,” I’d proclaim, “It’ll be more comfortable, and you can save money and the planet at the same time!” Experts like McKinsey assured me that insulation and heating systems pay off very quickly. After two years of actually tackling it at our house, the practicalities are—surprise!—a bit more complicated.

When you take a closer look at an older house you don’t see just outdated insulation; you also see drafty windows (and possibly mold), and a

Tags: , , , ,


Super-efficient “passive house” design scales up to apartment buildings

Highly efficient, tight homes that stay cool in summer and warm in winter with little or no outside energy have been a “thing” in recent years.  However, the relatively large up-front investment left this breakthrough as yet another green lifestyle option for the well-heeled.  That’s rapidly changing, though, with the opening of large apartment complexes utilizing the German passivhaus approach to design.  Portland, Oregon’s smattering of high-end private “passive houses” have now been joined by the The Orchards, an affordable housing complex of 57 apartments:

“Every day I find a new reason to love it,” gushes Georgye Hamlin, whose one-bedroom apartment is as noiseless as a recording studio. “It’s cool, it’s quiet, and I don’t even hear the train. During the heat wave, my girlfriend came over to sleep because it was so cool. Yay for German engineering!”

Cornell University has broken ground on the world’s biggest passive building, a 350-unit apartment house in New York City, where Mayor Bill DeBlasio is laying out an urban vision built around this kind of building:

Tags: , ,


Resiliency networks for smaller cities

In recent weeks, we’ve featured the work of several networks of cities and of mayors that are working together to tackle climate challenges locally.  But if you live in a smaller city (or aren’t a mayor), you may be interested in a couple of other organizations we just came across. Resilient Communities for America includes over 200 city and county councilmembers (and mayors) and offers free resources to help your community track emissions, plan for solar and resiliency, and more.  The larger ICLEI (launched in 1991 as the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives; now rebranded as Local Governments for Sustainability) has hundreds of members in 42 states, and over a thousand from around the world; dues for cities under 50,000 are just $600/year. Either or both of these networks could really help you jump-start local initiatives or take the next steps.

Tags: , , , , ,


Cities lead the way on climate, resilience

Everywhere I turn lately, there’s another reminder that cities are central to our hopes for a more sustainable, resilient future.  The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group—a decade-old collaboration among 75 of the world’s largest cities that are home to over a half-billion people and a quarter of the global economy—is on the forefront of these efforts, as is the Compact of Mayors, involving 84 cities, many of them smaller or mid-sized. Both groups are gearing up to have a major presence at the upcoming Paris climate talks. The C40 has just released a new report, Powering Climate Action: Cities as Global Changemakers, which highlights the collaborative potential of cities working together: “The evidence shows that cities are taking action even where they have limited power, by collaborating with other cities and non-state actors and catalysing wider climate action in the private sector and civil society.”

NRDC’s OnEarth magazine recently produced an issue devoted to city-based climate action that is full of inspiring stories, including 

Tags: , , , , ,


Small homesteads: a rich life now, ready for “what if”

Homesteads designed to increase self-suffiency are not just a throwback to the 60’s or a prepper fortification against total breakdown.  In today’s uncertain world, they are investments in personal and local resiliency that offer substantial returns in any future scenario.  And it doesn’t take much land to shift your family’s balance from total dependence on unsustainable (and potentially fragile) global food and energy systems, toward a much more rewarding and reliable balance of local, regional, and global supplies.  After a few years, you may even find yourself feeling a lot less nervous about the “what if” consequences of a major economic or environmental crisis that could disrupt your access to distant goods.

But where to start?  And why would you want to?  We recently came across a great introduction to these questions, in a profile of Melliodora, a 2-acre homestead in a rural village setting; click through for more details.

Tags: , , , ,


Resilient Cities program expanding worldwide

The Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities program is providing funding to cities from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Amman, Jordan.  A City Resiliency Framework, including twelve “drivers” in four major areas (see illustration) helps each city focus on its particular chronic resiliency challenges, and to set the stage for a nimble response if an acute shock occurs.  As examples: El Paso/Juarez is targeting water supplies as the southwestern drought deepens, while a 2013 mapping project in Kathmandu was reactivated after the recent earthquake to help guide recovery efforts.  From a resilient investing perspective, this effort is centered in Zone 4 (involving a wide range of community organizations as well as municipal agencies and government, which is funded to hire a CRO, or Chief Resilience Officer) and Zone 1 (nonprofit and volunteer efforts) and Zone 6 (habitat, landscape).  So far, two-thirds of the cities have been chosen, with the rest set to be announced later this year.

In looking over their blog, we were especially taken by the post on the mapping project, which jumped from the Kathmandu story to an Indonesian project that worked with an artists collective to map the city of Semarang:

Tags: , ,


Ecotrust: mid-size producers are key to regional food system vitality

Ecotrust recently released a comprehensive report on regional food systems that spotlights the key role played by mid-sized producers, those that are too big to survive by selling primarily at farmers’ markets or to CSAs, but too small to compete in commodities markets.  They call it “Ag of the Middle,” and it includes those operations that sell to restaurants and retailers and could benefit greatly by improved infrastructure that would help them reach institutions and distributors.  The 250-page “Food Infrastructure Gap Analysis” includes a big-picture look at the current food supply chains, discussions of the very different infrastructure needs and hurdles facing different types of producers, and new perspectives for those seeking to invest in regional food in ways that move the whole system forward. While this report focuses on Oregon, the analysis and recommendations are applicable to any region. Of particular note are separate chapters looking at the particular challenges and opportunities in six different product categories: chicken, beef, pork, small grains, storage crops, and greens.

Click through for some of our top takeaways from this valuable report.