Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Pay the Piper

This country has a global carbon debt in its consumption footprint that comes to about 150% of biocapacity, which clearly requires a rapid reduction in carbon emissions that is critical to achieving the balance in global ecology. The goal of achieving this Net Zero by 2030 is within reach, according to Architecture 2030. This is due to the response by the building industry of coalescing around the target of integrating natural processes into the structures and projects themselves, and abandoning fossil fuels.

The 2030 Challenge, shown here as a graph,was established in response to the climate change crisis by architect Edward Mazria in 2002. It was a recognition that the industry had no other option but to transform itself from a consumption model to a regenerative model, given the realities of climate change. This effort, among many models for reducing emissions and generation of local power sources, has been the underlying motivating force for the creation of the new model energy codes. It's anticipated the development of these codes because of the public policy established at the Federal level in October of 2009,when a commitment to utilize green technologies and alternative energy was made by President Barack Obama who issued the Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy and Economic Performance Executive Order, setting sustainable goals for federal agencies, and also announced a $3.4 billion investment in a smart energy grid.

As a result, the military - including the Army - has established a net zero goal by 2030. Many cities and local regional planning entities have also moved ahead with their own planning models to achieve the reduction of their carbon footprint at the urban scale. Chicago's Decarbonization Plan is one of them. San Francisco has also made an early start in the regional planning game with its approach to "the Precautionary Principle" as a legitimate basis for making environmental decisions.

While the building industry, the government and many environmental groups are moving as quickly as they are able towards the Net Zero goal, we see at the global climate summits that even this goal will not be enough. Our country, because of its massive emissions over the last century, will owe the world's people a tremendous level of support in the reduction of global consumption and providing the necessary carbon sink through exerting its global influence. That's when our bill comes due.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Coherence is Intelligence

Dealing with the many aspects of climate change and at the same time drastically reducing carbon emissions into the biosphere may seem absolutely daunting. It has certainly eclipsed the ability of the global community to agree on carbon reduction strategies, particularly the Contraction and Convergence model that is necessarily an appropriate course.

Yet, the momentum is building to not only use technology to produce clean energy, but also a shift in the way that human habitation systems are built as well as how they are integrated into coherent systems. This kind of intelligence creates a synergy (greater than the sum of its parts) from interlinked hubs. There are many kinds of linked systems - nature is the biggest one - but in our built habitat there are many of them, such as: watershed, dams and pumps of the water companies; regional and local transportation systems; and in particular, distributed power systems known as "smart grid" infrastructure. An excellent example of this kind of infrastructure development is found in Denmark.

The flexibility of this kind of an approach allows the system to shift and respond to environmental conditions as well as document it over time. This reduces the demand, consumption and waste that are found in static transported utilites, in much the same way that computer systems have increased in power and miniaturized in accordance with Moore's Law. This kind of coherence, thus intelligence, is key to implementing the many strategies that are available right now to reduce our human demand on global resources. While many things can be undertaken immediately to address local climate issues, it's necessary to integrate these strategies into a coherent whole. The potential climate agreement by the global community will necessarily impact a tremendous number of human systems, as I've outlined here.

But it's the only way forward for the common survival of our living systems.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

April is Beancounter Month

It's the month of reckoning in the USA: taxes, filings and that great exchange between citizens and their local financial and accounting professionals. The only sure thing in life, death and taxes. And yet another element of coming to account has been laid on the table: a unified building code for sustainable practices in the USA and its properties and projects abroad, the 2012 International Green Construction Code. This is a mandatory model code which will be adopted throughout the country that supersedes a myriad collection of voluntary and local "green" standards, including the LEED standard. This overlay code came about because of the need for a common standard that complies with the requirements in the US and abroad for a means of requiring energy and water conservation and carbon reduction. As the American Institute of Architects puts it, this is a game-changer for the USA and the global community.

The International Code Council is an industry organization that writes and establishes the model codes (IBC) adopted in 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, NYC, Guam, and the Northern Marianas Islands. It has just issued the new IgCC for adoption by all jurisdictions. It's the response by the building industry to create a common groundwork that attempts to reduce the impact of the built environment on ecosystems by requiring green strategies to be implemented throughout the country.

The IgCC is the first model code that includes sustainability measures for the entire construction project and its site from design through construction, certificate of occupancy and beyond. The new code is expected to make buildings more efficient, reduce waste, and have a positive impact on health, safety and community welfare. The IgCC creates a regulatory framework for new and existing buildings, establishing minimum green requirements for buildings and complementing voluntary rating systems which may extend beyond the customizable baseline of the IgCC. The code acts as an overlay to the existing set of International Codes, including provisions of the International Energy Conservation Code and ICC-700, the National Green Building Standard, and incorporates ASHRAE Standard 189.1 as an alternate path to compliance. Adoption of this code is already going forward in jurisdictions that want to benchmark the attributes of sustainable construction, rather than trying to cope with many kinds of certifications, products and processes.

The new code also tackles water reduction and grey water, ventilation system design, and most importantly, it tracks measures which improve a building’s thermal envelope. Some LEED buildings have missed their energy goals, and a big reason is because neither LEED nor code looked closely at wall assemblies, windows, and doors. HVAC equipment efficiency is also boosted, which also now includes a section on evaporative coolers.

This model code is the new consensus measure of sustainability throughout the USA, and is another step forward in the recognition that the entire industry must be responsible in the development of the built environment and focus on preservation of natural resources and processes, as opposed to the old dinosaur model of burning up our resources beyond the planet's ability to support human activities.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Drylands Design

What are drylands? One of several kinds of ecosystems as defined by the United Nations University program, as is outlined here on its site:

Many of these dryland areas face severe land degradation, in which marginal areas are turned into wastelands and natural ecosystems are altered through destruction of surface vegetation, poor management of water resources, inappropriate land use practices, overuse of fertilizers and biocides, and disposal of domestic and industrial wastes. This, in the face of climate change, is endangering most of the land and its resources for ourselved and for future generations.This requires a comprehensive and strategic approach to regeneration of natural processes in order to preserve the earth that provides for us.

Many strategies have been developed that can apply to this problem. There are various ways of recycling water, conserving it, recharging aquifers, clearing out the toxic wastes and fertilizers that are polluting our water supplies. An open ideas design competition has been staged for a drylands approach to local ecosystems that's a call for solutions in an area located in California. The International Drylands Design Competition, was hosted by the California Architectural Foundation, AIA California Council, and Arid Lands Institute at Woodbury University. It's officially this years' William Turnbull Competition in honor of his ideas for sustaining and improving the California landscape.

One of the best examples of this kind of overall planning in the competition received a Merit Award: Geeti Silwal, AICP, San Francisco Resource Infinity Loop: Watershed Urbanism in San Francisco, called "The Resource Infinity Loop" that contains a scalability toolkit for implementing its strategies. (pdf download here)

The A+D Museum, established and supported by the architecture and building industry in Los Angeles, is exhibiting the competition this month:

DRYLANDS DESIGN features work by architects, landscape architects, engineers, and urban designers responding to the challenges of water scarcity in the face of climate change. With a focus on the US West, the exhibition will presents a portfolio of adaptive strategies large and small, rural and urban, high tech and low-carbon. Since no single solution will meet the complex needs of the US West, the exhibition will explore a range of approaches for how buildings and parks, houses and streets, industry and agriculture, cities and neighborhoods might be adapted to face a drought-prone future. DRYLANDS DESIGN recognizes water scarcity as an issue of global concern, and challenges the industrialized world to take a leadership position with water-conserving, low-carbon design innovation for its own backyard.

This competition is an important step in recognizing the urgency of developing comprehensive solutions to urban problems that regenerate natural systems.