Zero Energy Natural Building Could Save The World

As many of you know, I am studying toward my MBA in Sustainable Systems at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute (BGI). I have been building up my Iron Shawna project since 2011 and hope to continue to cultivate it into a viable business.

Photo May 13, 11 31 42 PM

In the meantime, I took a couple of classes in energy and put together a business pitch as a homework requirement for said courses.

Initially, I was inspired by a net zero energy project in Hawaii that provided affordable living for native Hawaiians so that they could avoid living in cardboard boxes on the beach and maybe even save money toward their kids’ college.  This project was a jointly funded and produced effort by the government and private contractors, using modern building materials.

Photo Mar 06, 4 33 26 AM

Kaupuni Village: A closer look at the first net-zero energy affordable housing community in Hawaii. Click on the image to see my team’s Prezi presentation about the current and future energy situation in Hawaii.

With little idea of what I might pitch for class, I called Ted Clifton of Zero Energy Plans, LLC in Whidbey Island to interview him about his designs and ideals.  One of my takeaways from Ted was that many builders do not consider the position of the sun when designing a home for energy efficiency.  My assumption was that Ted’s designs rely on modern building materials, since we did not talk about natural building materials.

After I hung up with Ted, I was reminded of a couple of friends who had considered building cob on their Kitsap Peninsula property. Another friend and classmate had experience up in Port Townsend with Habitat for Humanity.  Both sources convinced me that cob could be a good start for using natural building materials, but that it is a thermal mass that will release energy as soon as it is absorbed.  Straw bale could therefore be used as insulation to hold the energy absorbed by the cob.

Slowly but surely, my business pitch for Seattle Straw & Cob Collective was born.  But I wasn’t finished, yet.

A couple of my others friends also happened to invite me to a cob sauna building workshop on their Monroe property. They had hired the Mud Girls to do site evaluations and design reviews and then they set up a workshop that ultimately speeds up the building progress and teaches others how to build with cob.

Mud Girls Cob Sauna Build

Click the image to see a fantastic walk through of the progress and design of the cob sauna. Image and video by Rae du Soleil (

In the middle of all of these connections and inspirational perspectives, I searched for evidence of other people in my impending situation: even though the stock markets may have recovered from the recession, roughly 800 foreclosures are still happening each month in King County alone (which is double that of last year’s rates).

Source: Tim Ellis, Seattle Bubble

Source: Tim Ellis, Seattle Bubble

My best friend Jessica had visited Casa Gallina, a beautiful, sustainable, rental property in Taos, NM and I vaguely remembered that she had visited the headquarters of a project called Earthship Biotecture. Man, did the buildings look weird! I did do a double-take at the project in light of my business pitch and Jessica helped make it possible for me to visit the Earthship headquarters myself.

Also, I discovered that a group of volunteers had formed Earthship Seattle! So far, I have traded quite a few emails with them, attended one of their monthly meetups, and attended a screening of the documentary “Garbage Warrior”. They are currently at the communication stage to get the word out about Earthships in general. Eventually, they hold a hope and dream to create a test build site as a visitor center. Michael Reynolds is also coming to Seattle to give a 3-day seminar (which, incidentally, is an introduction/discount for the Earthship Academy program, for anyone potentially interested in working hands on with the Earthship group).


Ultimately, my Seattle Straw & Cob Collective pitch was well enough received that I had 5 interested workers and 2 interested clients. That was what convinced me that there might be a worthwhile idea, here!


This is a glimpse of my Business Model You Canvas for both Iron Shawna and Seattle Straw & Cob Collective during a recent workshop.

As Tim Clark of Business Model You and Business Canvas says, “Competence, Not [just] Ideas, Underpins Business Models.”  This is why I have now worked with cob and am getting more involved with Earthships. I am also getting ready to revamp my pitch for sharing with the BGI and Esalen communities at an upcoming gathering in Big Sur, California.

Ultimately, I want to put all of my sources of inspiration together: natural building (Mud Girls), solar orientation & technology (Zero Energy Plans), recycling (Earthships) with business (BGI)….whatever it takes to reduce building, labor and energy costs so that people can sustain themselves financially, environmentally, socially and with purpose.

Next step: maybe you and I will have an inspiring conversation at the Earthship Seminar in September!  I hope to see you there.


About Shawna

I work on projects ranging from renewable fuel technologies, to radically sustainable homes, to communication games, to women's circles and training programs, to girls' scholarships. I currently have a work-trade agreement with a sliding scale community acupuncture clinic. I have been a work share member on a local urban farm. I have been a transit advocate with the Transportation Choices Coalition. I’ve learned how to build a cob building using all natural materials. I created the Iron Shawna project ( cooking well using only ingredients on hand. I have trained for and completed three half marathons, a full marathon, and several 5k/10k races. I like to try and explore almost anything at least once.
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One Response to Zero Energy Natural Building Could Save The World

  1. Pingback: Oh, for Pumpkin’s Saké | Iron Shawna

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