Just Me, Thinking Out Loud
Anyone who has read a blog, sat in on one of my presentations or been a client of Carmel Building & Design knows that I’m passionate about evidence-based, high-performance building. The passion stems from a desire to take what I’ve learned about human impact on the environment over the past 25-plus years and apply it to my chosen profession. But, it’s not just a way to satisfy my need to address the larger issues that come with being environmentally mindful. It’s also a way to meet the needs of homeowners—like the need for healthier indoor air quality, quiet, durability, and energy and water conservation. And in the end, building in a way that’s better for the home’s occupants is also better for the planet.
These are not conclusions or practices that I’ve come to easily, nor alone. There are many forward thinkers who have contributed to the wealth of knowledge that’s available today. Often, it’s a matter of trying things, taking steps then looking back to see if something can be improved to achieve an even better result. I admit that looking at the BIG picture can be overwhelming and trying to address all the problems out there can quickly stamp out the flame of activism. It’s important to start small, and start smart. Notice that START is the operative word.
Another realization I’ve come to is that it’s crucial to celebrate and take pride in every achievement regardless of scope or size. Sometimes I expend too much effort thinking about what I haven’t yet done versus what I’ve been able to accomplish. Every step we take in the right direction is reason for joy…nothing motivates most of us like the sense of having done something right, something good.
The reasons we decide to adopt a more planet friendly, sustainable lifestyle don’t matter as much as the decision itself. One person might want healthier indoor air quality because there’s asthma or allergies in the family. Another might be looking to build or remodel a home that is more durable and has a better resale value. Another could be most concerned with lowering their carbon footprint, while yet another might focus more on energy and water conservation and reducing related costs. Whatever brings you to the table, be proud that you’re taking a seat, and a stand.
With buildings accounting for nearly 40 percent of global and U.S. energy consumption, it’s imperative that the building sector play a key role in promoting and practicing effective climate policy. Efficiency measures in new and existing buildings provide enormous opportunities for nations to reduce their energy consumption while at the same time driving improvements in public health, productivity and job creation. According to the International Energy Agency, energy efficiency measures have the potential to deliver two-thirds of the energy-related CO2 emissions reductions needed to combat climate change.
The building industry has a tremendous impact on reducing harmful carbon emissions through the homes, buildings and communities we design and build.
- Based on 2018 data from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP.org), the building sector accounted for 36% of global energy use; 39% of energy-related CO2 emissions including 11% from manufacturing building materials like steel, glass and cement; 51% of global electricity consumption…And in the U.S. that last figure was 70%!
- According to the Alliance to Save Energy (ASE.org), buildings in the U.S.—including offices, homes and stores—use 40% of our energy and 70% of our electricity. Buildings also emit more than one-third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions—more than any other sector of the economy.
- Building-related emissions more than doubled since 1970; and are expected to double or triple again by mid-century.
- It’s a fallacy that the power plants, not the buildings, are creating the problem. Buildings create demand for the energy that power plants produce. Our buildings need cooling and heating, lighting, etc. most coming from electricity. Globally, one-fifth of total energy used in buildings is heating and cooling. (In my experience, it’s higher in the U.S.)
- The building industry plays a key role in bringing this total energy usage down.
- Good design in residential building and retrofits can reduce heating and cooling energy use by 1/3 by mid-century, assuming that building floor area will at least double during the same period, without sacrificing comfort.
- Why retrofit or build to achieve only a 30 to 40% increase in efficiency when we can employ available standards like Passive House and other strategies to achieve a 90% increase in efficiency?
- Passive House and other high-performance building standards need to become part of the building code, moving evidence-based high-performance from a niche to a mass market.
I continue on a personal quest to learn more and employ every tool available to reduce the energy demand and related carbon emissions in the built environment. My chosen profession gives me many opportunities to affect real and lasting change. No one person can do this alone. There are opportunities for each of us to reduce our energy consumption and the related carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. Get creative. Over the next few months, I’ll be focusing blogs on things that are being done to improve our state of living and nurture the health of the planet. Stay tuned. And feel free to send your questions, comments and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.