Sunday, November 30, 2008

Chicago's Climate Action Plan

Mayor Daley atop Chicago City Hall

You may have heard about Chicago's ambitious Climate Action Plan. I urge you to read it and then, perhaps more importantly, read the research it is based on. Of particular interest is the section on Adaptation to climate change. Chicago has invested substantial resources in research and implementation and they have provided a useful model for other Midwestern cities to follow.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Are Green Buildings Really Having an Impact?

So much new information is announced during the U.S. Green Building Council's annual conference that it is impossible to sort through all of it in real time, but now that I have had time to unpack from my trip to Boston, I thought I would try to illuminate some of the most important, one blog post at a time over the next few weeks.

Let's start with a report released by Rob Watson, who led the development and implementation of the LEED Green Building Rating system from 1994 to 2005. The Green Building Impact Report (GBIR) is the first integrated assessment of the land, water, energy, material and indoor environmental impacts of the LEED for New Construction (LEED NC), Core & Shell (LEED CS) and Existing Building (LEED EB) standards. Watson's team says that LEED Certified projects represent more than 6% of new commercial construction, but there has been an astronomical ramp-up in the past year of new project registrations, with new construction sector penetrations approaching a whopping 40%. On average, it takes approximately two years from Registration to Certification, with an attrition rate of 25% to 30%.

Among their other findings:

Environmental Impacts

Non-residential construction, the focus of the report, represents about 40% of the environmental burden of buildings.

Land Use. Between efficient location and the myriad of alternative transportation options supported by LEED, nearly 400 million vehicle miles traveled have been avoided by the occupants of LEED buildings. This grows to more than 4 billion vehicle miles by 2020.

Water. Water savings from LEED commercial buildings to grow to more than 7% of all non-residential water use by 2020. The equivalent of 2008 LEED water savings would fill enough 32-ounce bottles to circle the Earth 300 times.

Energy. LEED saves energy on many different levels, including energy related to operations, commuting, water treatment and the lower energy embodied within materials. In operational energy terms, LEED buildings consume approximately 25% less on average than comparable commercial buildings. By 2020, these energy savings amount to more than 1.3 million tons of coal equivalent each year, representing approximately 78 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) avoided emissions.

Materials and Resources. LEED has helped spur an entire industry in green building materials. Certified projects to date have specified a total of more than $10 billion of green materials, which could grow to a cumulative amount exceeding $100 billion by 2020.

Indoor Environmental Quality. Indoor environmental quality is the most important contributor to the productivity attributes of LEED. They calculated that companies with employees working in LEED buildings realized annual productivity gains exceeding $170 million resulting from improved indoor environmental quality, a number that will grow to nearly $2 billion of annual productivity improvements by 2020.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Three Gifts for you from Greenbuild 2008

Yesterday at Greenbuild in Boston I had the opportunity to hear from three of our most gifted thinkers; Bill McKibben, E.O. Wilson and Janine Benyus.

All three provided gifts in the form of web sites that have the potential to change the world.

Bill McKibben gave us
E. O. Wilson unwrapped the Encyclopedia of Life
Janine Benyus handed us

Spend an hour with each one this weekend and you will never see the world the same way again.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

USGBC Turns Fifteen in Boston

Greenbuild 2008, underway in Boston this week, marks the 15th year of the U.S. Green Building Council, one of the world's fastest growing non-profit organizations. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu was giving the keynote address this morning, I could not help but reflect on the amazing history of this organization.

In 1993, USGBC founders David Gottfried, a developer, and Rick Fedrizzi, then with Carrier Corporation, presented their idea for a non-profit industry organization to promote green buildings to the American Institute of Architects Committee on the Environment (COTE) National Steering Committee. COTE was founded by the likes of Bob Berkebile, Greg Franta, and Bill McDonough with help from non-architects Amory Lovins and Bill Browning from the Rocky Mountain Institute, among many other pioneers. Due to several twists of fate, I was then the first student member of that committee.

I recall thinking that Gottfried and Fedrizzi had a good idea, but it was a risky proposition. How would they prevent it from becoming overun by self-serving corporate interests? Would Dow Chemical really be interested in sustainability or would they just use the organization as a cover. How would they define green building and how would they make sure the definition was applied fairly so as to prevent greenwashing (which was not yet in the lexicon)?

It was clear, however, that these two were sincere and that they had an understanding of the underlying issues of sustainability. AIA COTE continued on track to produce the science-based Environmental Resource Guide and began to delve into the complex world of life cycle analysis of building products while conducting seminal demonstration projects like the Greening of the White House. But many members of AIA COTE also became increasing intrigued by the USGBC's burgeoning efforts to engage a broader coalition into the green building movement and several AIA COTE founders later became active USGBC board members and advisors. The founding COTE board will be honored tomorrow night with a USGBC award for organizational leadership at the dazzling new Institute of Contemporary Art.

The first USGBC meeting I recall had less than 100 people present. By the time they got around to their first Greenbuild International Conference and Exposition in Austin in 2002, the numbers had climbed to almost 4000. Today, we had 10,000 at breakfast listening to Archbishop Desmond Tutu who stated, "there's enough in this world to satisfy everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed." The final tally may exceed 30,000, in spite of a dismal economy that canceled many travel plans.

You can catch many of the keynote and master speaker addresses from Greenbuild live and free on Greenbuild365. You won't want to miss the unveiling of LEED 2009 tomorrow!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Colleges Tackle Climate Change at AASHE 2008 in Raleigh, North Carolina

When I attended my first U.S. Green Building Council event in 1994, less than 200 people showed up. At the last Greenbuild International Conference in Chicago, more than a 100 times that number showed up to crowd McCormick Place. Next week, Greenbuild descends on Boston for what promises to be another record attendance that will probably approach 30,000.

Today, I am midway through another organization's conference that has some of the same feel of the exponential growth of the U.S. Green Building Council. The second conference of the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) more than doubled its attendance from their first conference to almost 2000 attendees from 48 states and 7 Canadian provinces representing over 400 colleges and universities.

One thing that made the Greenbuild conferences so popular was the quality and utility of the presentations in rooms packed full of very eager learners, who each had their own lessons to teach. AASHE has six parallel tracks going with the constant dilemma that there are several at any one time I want to hear. One after another, the heroic stories are told of faculty, staff and students across the country tackling the defining problems of this century. Together, they tell the story of a massive retooling of colleges and universities to equip students for a whole new world. Nearly 600 colleges and universities are signatories to the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, which commits their institutions to achieving climate neutrality and to publishing their progress toward that goal. Many of the institutions here are not yet signatories, but they are learning a lot from those who are further along the path to campus sustainability.

In addition to the standard sessions and poster presentations, the keynote speakers have been outstanding. Lester Brown, author of Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization led things off with reminders about the limits and daunting obstacles we face and the "race between tipping points in climate change and political change." Later he also described the hope embodied in a long list of success stories from around the world that illustrate how far we have come with wind and solar energy. He called the attendees to action and noted that "saving civilization is not a spectator sport."

This morning, Van Jones, author of The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix our Two Biggest Problems, outlined how our country had recently seen the "floor fall from under our feet with the economic collapse, but also how we had seen the ceiling begin to fly with the election of a new president." A gifted speaker, Jones outlined three actions needed to "focus the nation" to transform our economy to "take America back and take America forward." He called for 1) putting a price on carbon, 2) retrofitting our existing building stock and 3) repowering America with renewable energy and a new national power grid.

This evening's keynote speaker was Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline and the new book, The Necessary Revolution: How Individuals and Organizations are Working Together to Create a Sustainable World. Senge called for a new way of educating with more variety and less factory-like regimentation to unlock creativity and innovation. He noted that the future will not likely look back on our age of "digging up stuff and burning it" with the mindset that finite resources are somehow infinite, but he also noted that "nobody is working hard to heat up the planet, they are just not aware of the consequences."

This theme of the need for ecological literacy and opportunity for change was common in all of the keynotes, which approached the theme in different ways, but with the same conclusion. There is no time to waste in transforming our interaction with the natural world which sustains us and the college campus is a good place to start that transformation.

Friday, November 7, 2008

College Campuses Going Climate Neutral

Raleigh's new LEED-Registered Convention Center will host AASHE 2008

When a relatively new national organization sells out its second annual conference, you have to think they may be on to something. Such is the case for the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. AASHE 2008 has been sold out for a couple of weeks but I was lucky enough to get off the waiting list so I will be blogging from the conference starting this weekend in Raleigh, North Carolina, along with many of the other 2000 participants. Carbon offsets are being purchased to make the conference carbon neutral, including attendee travel.

Founded in 2006, AASHE is an association of colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada formed, according to their web site, "to promote sustainability in all sectors of higher education - from governance and operations to curriculum and outreach - through education, communication, research and professional development. AASHE defines sustainability in an inclusive way, encompassing human and ecological health, social justice, secure livelihoods, and a better world for all generations."

The long list of member institutions probably contains your alma mater. Among those are over 588 whose presidents have signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Change Commitment, representing about 25% of all college students in America, with the goal of achieving climate neutral campuses. Is your college among the signatories?

Speaking climate change, The Pew Center on Climate Change has a number of excellent resources on the topic, including likely policy changes with a new administration and a new map that shows the climate initiatives in all states, by state and by initiative.