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Celebrating Earth Day 2015
This Earth Day, I want to take time to highlight some of the strides that have been made in energy efficiency and sustainability.
We’ve made a conscious effort to help our clients improve energy productivity, reliability, and overall sustainability. Initially, we pursued these enhancements because they were project requirements from our largest client, the federal government. As the biggest building owner/operator in the country, the U.S. government has sought to improve its building stock and utility costs while at the same time setting an example for the rest of the country. Its primary tool in doing this has been the authorship of acts, memoranda, and executive orders. These ratcheted up with the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and have continued to develop and strengthen through the recent Executive Order 13693 released just last month1. This latest order continues to drive improvements in building performance by requiring continued reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and pushing for increasing percentages of renewable and alternative energy relative to total usage.
It’s also worth noting the significant progress we’ve made as a nation when it comes to energy productivity and sustainability. Our economic output per dollar of energy has doubled from 1970-2010, and our total consumption has actually decreased in the past few years3, despite a growing population and economy. We can continue these trends and double our energy productivity again by 2030 without the need for painful sacrifices or reduced prosperity. To get there, we’ll need a mix of increased awareness, continued strengthening of building codes, and sound energy strategy decisions.
As engineers and architects, I believe we can be proud of our achievements. We’re increasing our efficiency, improving resiliency, and forwarding the missions of our clients. In doing so, we’re helping in a small way to address the problem of climate change. We should recall that ASHRAE’s Position Document on Climate Change4 states the global building sector has the greatest potential for economical greenhouse gas mitigation. This means design professionals are positioned to have the greatest impact.
Water issues are also an area of focus. Having just returned from Southern California, I’ve seen the effects of a years-long drought which shows little sign of subsiding. This winter, the Sierra Nevada snowfall – the source of much of California’s water – was just SIX PERCENT of normal levels. Because of this, the entire state is working to implement mandatory water conservation measures.
I believe it’s important to re-frame the climate and water discussions as challenges of opportunity and abundance. Our nation’s power grid provides cheap, reliable energy as it continues to be integrated with lower-emitting power plants including renewable energy sources. We can accelerate this trend, still have relatively cheap power, and improve overall grid reliability and security.
Although the days of virtually free water may be over, it’s still relatively common stuff. With proper management and the continued adoption of capture and reclamation strategies, most of the world can continue to enjoy the same activities and quality of life as they’ve done in the past. I say “most” because we can actually improve access and quality of water to the nearly 800 million people that are currently living without adequate supply.
I continue to be positive and optimistic, and I believe it’s a great time to be an engineer or architect. We have our work cut out for us as we work together to solve some big challenges in the decades to come.
Happy Earth Day 2015!
1. Executive Order 13693: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2015-03-25/pdf/2015-07016.pdf
2. Alliance to Save Energy: http://www.ase.org/sites/ase.org/files/full_commission_report.pdf
3. Energy Information Agency: http://www.eia.gov/cfapps/ipdbproject/iedindex3.cfm?tid=44&pid=44&aid=2&cid=US,&syid=1980&eyid=2012&unit=QBTU
4. ASHRAE Position Document on Climate Change: https://www.ashrae.org/about-ashrae/position-documentsU.S. Center for Disease Control: http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/global/wash_statistics.html
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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