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Colin Gilboy
Senior Member
Username: colin

Post Number: 17
Registered: 09-2005
Posted on Sunday, November 27, 2005 - 02:27 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Sustainable Development and Global Warming

by William Buchholz, AIA, CCS, LEED AP

November 2005

If you are confused and overwhelmed by the whole concept of what's sustainable, what's "green", and what to do about global warming, then welcome to the crowd. These can be confusing concepts to wrap your mind around.

The generally accepted definition of sustainability was first published in 1987 in the Brundtland Report by the World Commission on Environment and Development (part of the United Nations), and was so called because of the commission chair, Gro Harlem Brundtland. It deals with sustainable development and the change of politics needed for achieving that. It says:
"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

It's deliberately a weak definition, crafted to get widespread support. It says in effect: Don't force our children to regret the past - at least give them some choices in the future.

Business interests, however, defined sustainable development in economic terms which are obviously not very sustainable: "Sustainable development is development that sustains the highest rate of economic growth without inflation." In other words, business as usual. Another similar definition is: "Sustainability considers the expanding needs of a growing world population, implying a steady and necessary growth." This suggests a continuous, expanding development, regardless of the earth's limits.

At the time these definitions were being discussed, the major concern was about the rate at which the earth's resources were being used up. World Bank economist Herman Daly proposed 3 specific rules to make sense of sustainability in economic terms:

1. Harvest renewable resources only at the speed at which they regenerate,
2. Limit wastes to the assimilative capacity of local ecosystems, and
3. Require that part of the profit be put aside for investment in a renewable substitute resource.

This concept was still confined to a business model of the world and did not take into account the effect of one country's wastes on other countries development and health, or on social issues. No one was suggesting that business was the problem - just that traditional business models needed to be redefined.

There were many other technical papers published at the time that dealt with issues such as sustainable ocean fisheries, agriculture, forestry, ecosystems, economies, and others. By 1992, at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro it was clear that sustainable development was impossible without also controlling global warming, which was in fact, a big part of the problem. Scientists were detecting the movement of agricultural zones, the melting of polar ice caps, and rising sea levels.

It took several more years for scientists to quantify the problem and come up with some numbers and goals, and in 1997 the Kyoto Treaty was signed. It called for an average worldwide reduction of carbon-based gas emissions to 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2012. While even this reduction may not be enough, it's a beginning and is presumably enough to stop the dangerous increase in CO2 levels, and begin to slow the effects of global warming.

The simplest explanation for understanding how to control global warming that I've read was by David Hawkins of the Natural Resources Defense Council (www.nrdc.org) who said, "There are three big tools in the global-warming toolbox: efficiency, renewable energy, and carbon capture and storage for fossil fuels. We need to use all of them."

* In the efficiency toolbox are strategies that contribute to using less energy and emitting fewer greenhouse gasses. These include: using and going beyond LEED's energy performance standards; using EnergyStar rated appliances and equipment; using low-VOC paints and coatings; elimination of CFCs, HCFCs, and other greenhouse gasses which off-gas from products or are emitted in the manufacture of products; using recycled-content products which eliminates the energy needed to extract new raw materials; smog control standards for vehicles; encouraging more energy-efficient means of transportation; and other strategies for using less fossil fuel.

* In the renewable energy toolbox, governments and utilities need to encourage the use and development of alternative sources of energy such as geothermal, hydroelectric, wind, solar, and biomass. Individual building owners who implement solar energy technologies are also achieving energy-independence - a security advantage in an increasingly insecure world. Some counties are generating electricity by recovering methane from garbage dumps. The City and County of San Francisco has proposed harnessing the strong tidal current that flows under the Golden Gate Bridge by building underwater turbines to power generators that could supply enough electricity for the entire Bay Area. Since nuclear energy is not a renewable resource and waste disposal is a problem, it is not considered a sustainable option.

*In the carbon capture and storage toolbox are things like: planting trees to absorb CO2; using FSC-certified wood products which guarantees that forests are being sustainably managed to maintain their carbon-absorbing ability (Dr. Robert Hrubes of Scientific Certification Systems states that approximately 10-20% of U.S. forests are now FSC-certified; 30% in California); using recycled wood products so that trees do not need to be cut down thus maintaining their existing carbon sink; using rapidly renewable materials in lieu of wood to save trees; composting of organic material; and a relatively new coal-fired power plant technology called Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle technology, where CO2 from combustion gasses is injected back into the ground instead of being discharging into the air.

As David Hawkins says, " We need to use all [three strategies]. It will take all three to put together national and global recipes that can bring the problem of global warming under control." (see www.onearth.org ).
Bill Buchholz (Unregistered Guest)
Unregistered guest
Posted on Monday, December 05, 2005 - 03:30 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

This is an article that I wrote for the San Francisco Chapter CSI as one of our chapter's Green Committee projects. I have dozens of questions to ask other CSI members regarding doing LEED projects, green projects, and the issues and challenges you are facing.

Firstly, does anybody know if any other CSI Chapters have a Green committee that we could start having discussions with? It feels pretty lonely out here, and a network of CSI "Greenies" would be comforting.

Secondly, I wrote this article (and others) to try to highlight the enormous challenges we will be facing in trying to do sustainable buildings. It's a fast-moving target, and what was green a few years ago is passe today. Is anybody else doing any LEED or green projects? What are your biggest challenges? Are you as frustrated as I am about getting useful information from manufacturers?
Randall T. Bailey, PE, CSI, CCS, LEED AP
Intermediate Member
Username: baileyr

Post Number: 4
Registered: 07-2005
Posted on Wednesday, February 15, 2006 - 08:51 am:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Mr. Bucholz, thank you for providing a much-needed, cogent summary of sustainable development. I hope it will foster an active dialogue in this forum on the matter of SD and Green design/specifications. I share your desire for interaction and implementation of SD design and projects.

The Atlanta CSI Chapter does not have a Green committee to my knowledge, but we should form one. Will let you know if that occurs. USGBC brought the SD world to Atlanta with Greenbuild in November. It was highly informative and enjoyable, and I hope we can capitalize on the momentum it provided.

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