Archive for the Environment Category

The latest instalment of the IPCC report on Climate Change was recently released, attracting much less attention than the previous report a few years ago.  This lack of attention is an ominous sign.  The main issue arising in the report being that governments across the world need to do much more to mitigate Climate Change.

Here is what our Founder and Managing Director Don McLean has to say on the report…

IPCC Logo“What’s interesting to me is that IPCC has now added ‘Climate Change adaptation’ to its terminology as well as ‘mitigating’, thus admitting that, whether we like it or not, the world is going to experience some level of Climate Change. Currently the target is to keep within two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, however this is the level that many observers have stated that if reached will result in severe consequences for both people and the environment.”

“Since the last IPCC report we have seen dramatic change in the amount of fossil fuels available. At the release of the last report countries had concern over the peak oil, energy security and the increasing costs of fossil fuels. Today, through the emergence of new technology and the discovery of massive resources of fossil fuels that can be accessed through processes such as fracking and underground coal gasification, many countries now have sufficient fossil fuel resources to last them for centuries. It would be reasonable to conclude that the necessity for governments to react to Climate Change will be diminished, and as a consequence the only real driver in reducing our use of fossil fuels is Climate Change. Time will tell if governments will continue to set targets to reduce carbon emissions, but there is a real possibility if they don’t we will have to consider adaptation policies for much higher than a two degrees global temperature rise.”

“The next few years will be critical for governmental actions as the world economies emerge from recession and we see rapid economic growth in not just the BRIC countries but also the MINT countries.  Will we see any reduction in global CO2 emissions before the next IPCC report is published?  Unfortunately I doubt it.”

According to the Carbon Trust, UK schools could save around £70 million per year by reducing their energy costs, which would equate to reducing CO2 emissions by up to 300,000 tonnes. You don’t have to have done well at maths class to figure out that these are pretty substantial savings…

Getting the energy management of our schools right has multiple benefits. Firstly, the savings on energy bills for schools will free up much needed funding for educational resources such as extra teachers and assistants. Spending money on bills or extra resources for our children?  It’s a no brainer.

By introducing new saving measures in schools we also have the opportunity to educate a new generation of children about energy efficiency and the earth’s resources, giving them firsthand experience of an energy aware culture. All the while cutting down on our carbon emissions and combating climate change in the process – bonus!

veryschoolAll these benefits brings me nicely on to VerySchool, a European Competitiveness and Innovation (CIP) funded project that the IES research & Development team have been involved in since last year. The aim of the project is to develop customised energy savings strategies and ICT solutions for schools across Europe. It will do this through the integration of Smart LED Lighting, Smart Meters, Building Energy Management Systems, Energy Simulation Software, and Energy Action Management Software. The integration of these technologies will be conducted under the guidelines and practices of ISO50001 (energy programs) and IPMVP (measurement & verification) and will be called the VERYSchool Energy Action Navigator.

The project is already under way with four chosen Pilot Schools. These schools are the starting point in evaluating the benefits of the VERYSchool project in terms of energy efficiency savings and carbon reduction.

But for VerySchool to truly succeed in making an impact on EU schools we need your input. We want to understand the current level of confidence school managers and decision makers have in the Energy Management Programme. You can help us by completing this online questionnaire and passing it on to anyone you know that could help us understand how Energy Management is performing in EU Schools.

You can also keep up to date with the progress the project is making by signing up to the VerySchool newsletter here.

Apathy is worsening Global Warming

Posted: October 24, 2012 by , Category:Environment

I was dismayed to find out that the Arctic will soon be ice-free during the summer. Did you see this reported in the news? It was probably fairly low key if you did.

The map shows where the ice should of been in August and where it is now. In 1980, the Arctic ice in summer made up some 2% of the Earth’s surface. But since then the ice has roughly halved in area, and the volume of ice has dropped to just a quarter of what it was.

We should be worried on two counts.

Firstly, this depletion of the Arctic Ice was not expected to be seen so soon. It is a minor tipping point because white ice has a high reflectivity therefore it reflects back sunlight helping mitigate rising global temperatures. If the ice is not there then the sea absorbs the solar energy rather than reflect it, which warms the sea. The warmer water then melts more ice and the tipping point is activated.

The BBC reported that Prof Wadhams of Cambridge University calculated that this increased absorption of the sun’s rays is “the equivalent of about 20 years of additional CO2 being added by man”. Ouch! The problem is that we are becoming powerless to stop this happening as most people have now become non responsive to news of Climate Change and have become accustomed to living with it like AIDS, Asian Flu and the Greek Economy.

The second and much more worrying concern is that this profoundly serious process hardly got a mention on the news. I know we have bigger worldwide economic problems to consider, but this is not the only reason there was so little reaction to the thawing of the Arctic — as I’ve predicted before, we have already stopped listening. Record temperatures blah blah, highest rainfall in 100 years blah blah, Arctic free of ice in the summer blah blah. Who got voted off the X Factor this week?

Within the next two to three years we will hit 400ppm of atmospheric CO2. CO2 is currently rising at over 2ppm per year. Credible scientists reckon that at 450ppm we will experience a 2°C rise in global temperature. During 2008 governments were putting plans in place to stop us getting to 450ppm — now governments are putting adaption strategies in place because at the current rate we will hit 450 in 20 years. It was anticipated that the 450ppm level would not be achieved until 2050 or later. So we are doing less to combat climate change and we have less time to sort it. Literally burning the candle at both ends! For further reading on the subject, I would recommend visiting the 350.org website.

It is at times like this we should all remember how much individuals, organisations and companies like ours are doing to combat climate change.  Our impact is significant and it is being recognised. My message to my staff this month was that when you are coming into the office during the winter; remember that our work continues to make a difference every day as the benefits we bring increase and allow more & more new and existing customers to create better performing buildings with the VE. We are doing our part in keeping CO2 levels down and I hope you are too.

Carbon dioxide emitted by the United States reached its lowest level since 1992 earlier this year, according to a US Department of Energy Report, and the reasons might be a bit of a surprise.

Usually you wouldn’t contribute a reduction in CO2 to our extreme weather — or at least I wouldn’t. It seems a little counter intuitive. But experts say that this year’s unseasonably warm winter played a significant role in the drop in CO2. Warmer weather meant less energy consumed trying to keep homes and offices warm during what should have been the coldest parts of the year. Unfortunately, this stat only applies to the carbon dioxide emissions released from January to March of each year; the energy expended keeping our homes and office cool during the fourth hottest summer on record will surely make up for any reduction earlier in the year, scientists say.

Surprise number two? The recession is reducing CO2 emissions. The longer you think about it the more it makes sense. Less work = less fuel used. Government policy, new technology and an inability to afford gas-guzzling vehicles have lead to an emphasis on fuel efficiency. When was the last time you saw a Hummer on the road?

Lastly, the use of natural gas is playing a role in the numbers. This trend has been majorly driven by its affordability. The money that companies can save by increasing sustainability through natural gas is becoming more substantial. The good news is that natural gas seems like it might be a long term aid to reducing greenhouse emissions. Where the numbers from a warmer winter and slowing economy don’t tell the whole truth, the use of natural gas certainly does.

These stats might look good now, but they are a little deceiving and definitely don’t indicate that we should decrease our efforts toward reducing CO2. The next set of data that will be released is sure to prove this. Commercial buildings are still a major culprit when it comes to consuming and wasting energy. This is an area that real change can be made in. By making our buildings more sustainable, we can reduce our carbon footprint in a way that isn’t just a fluke but part of a long term solution toward energy efficiency.

The world has reached a new milestone. Only problem? This milestone is not the kind worth celebrating.

For the first time in hundreds of thousands of years, carbon dioxide levels in the Arctic have exceeded 400 parts per million, the New York Times reports. Globally, the average is a staggering 395 parts per millon. The level serves as a harsh reminder that, even with new technology and innovation surfacing every day, we’re far from being out of the woods.

“The fact that it’s 400 is significant,” said Jim Butler, global monitoring director at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Research Lab in Boulder, Colo. “It’s just a reminder to everybody that we haven’t fixed this and we’re still in trouble.”

So what’s behind the increase? Scientists say it’s a number of things – from cars to power plants- our reliance on fossil fuels is starting to take its toll. But one factor in particular is of interest, mostly because they are known as the “energy hogs” of the world- commercial buildings.

Offices, schools, hospitals, churches, gymnasiums, warehouses… Commercial buildings consume 20 percent of all the energy in the United States, and as the commercial buildings sector continues to grow, energy demand and usage will correspond – energy usage is already up nearly 75 percent since 1980, according to the United States Department of Energy. I’m pointing my finger at lighting and HVAC systems, which the DOE says contributes up to 45 percent of energy consumption in the average commercial building.

The commercial building sector cannot continue to consume energy like this if we’re truly looking to make a positive change for the future. As new buildings are constructed and old ones are renovated, it’s so important to take advantage of the energy modeling software that’s available. From daylight modeling and ventilation to building envelopes, lighting and insulation, nipping the problem from the start is a lot easier than trying to resolve the issue one the damage has been done.

Energy-efficient building is a commitment the entire industry has to make. Low-carbon, sustainable building for new construction needs to be thought of as requirement rather than an option, and renovations and retrofits should work to improve efficiency for our older structures – not just aesthetics. Only when this happens will we see any significant improvements in future carbon levels.

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It might be a down market, but green building is not following the trend. From 2008 to 2010, the value of green construction increased by 50 percent, according to McGraw-Hill Construction’s Green Outlook 2011. And analysts predict three to five-fold growth by 2015. Still, this growth represents only a very small segment of the overall construction industry.

As Forbes points out, there’s an incredibly slow green building adoption curve: “At this stage, there’s only a very small market segment that will buy something because it is energy efficient,” said Reuben Schwartz, Residential Energy Programs Manager of the Department of the Environment, City and County of San Francisco. The problem, I think, is an incredibly slow learning curve and a disconnect between industry veterans and the consumer.

Dan Geiger (Executive Director of the USGBC) cited research undertaken by the USGBC on schools. What parents want, he said, “is a modern, healthy school, so that their children get good grades and go to college. I didn’t say the word ‘green.’ Consumers

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think about this in a different way than we, the practitioners, think about it.”

And that’s really the problem. The architects, the engineers, the modelers — they understand it. It’s what we do day in and day out. But readily available technology and a good price point simply aren’t enough. Without a knowledgeable consumer who knows the advantages of green building, there will always be that disconnect from our world and the consumers’.

Education is vital to the health of the green building industry. The future depends on the general public understanding what I do every day. Only then will I be confident that green building will continue to advance and progress, eventually becoming the standard.

Between last year’s heat wave on the east coast of the United States and this year’s, it seems like crazy weather is becoming the norm. Turning on the news and hearing “record breaking temperatures” is become routine. This year we have had to endure triple digit heat in cities such as Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and St. Louis. All of this has caused injuries, deaths, wildfires and a strain on utilities.

A recent study conducted by the A NOAA/UK Met Office, doesn’t have great news. It stated that last year’s heat wave in Texas was 20 times more likely to occur now than in the 1960′s due to global warming. It seems like we need to get used to the idea that the heat is here to stay. This doesn’t just apply to the United States either; November’s unusually high temperatures in Britain were 62 times as likely. So what does this mean for us in the long run?

The answer is: we can’t be sure. A lot of the studies that have been written don’t have enough clear evidence to be fully accepted as fact among experts. But this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t prepare for the worse. A lot of the country is not as prepared as it should be for these occurrences. You can look at the blackouts as proof. Blackouts due to heat have occurred from United States all the way into The Great White North.

The solution to better handling these heat waves isn’t going to be taking a dip in a pool, going to the movies or sipping an icy drink. It’s going to involve changing the way we design and construct buildings and cities. To avoid blackouts and deal with extreme weather, buildings need to be as efficient as possible and that starts in the design process. By using modeling software we can design a building and know exactly how it will deal with the worst case scenario, whether it’s oppressive heat or violent winds. The building can also be designed in a way that it relies less on power consumption in order to maintain a comfortable environment for the people inside it. People can add all the power conserving and power efficiency technology they want to a building, but if you’ve built a building without testing the design you may be starting behind the eight ball. It’s important to know how extreme weather is going to stress buildings as well as people.

From the design of our buildings to educating people, we need to be ready for whatever Mother Nature is going to throw at us. Is this extreme? Maybe. But we construct buildings to be around forever, not with the intent of ripping them down and starting over in a couple years. So we better design them right and know how they will handle all situations.

It’s true that the U.S. government’s investments in green technology haven’t always paid off — just ask those who picked up office furniture, industrial supplies and T-shirts last month at the Solyndra bankruptcy auction. But that doesn’t mean additional funding is gone, especially with President Obama and former President Clinton’s recently-announced plan to invest $4 billion in energy upgrades to public and private buildings nationwide.

A recent article on Politico.com explains the duo has teamed up for the latest installment of President Obama’s “Better Building Initiative.” Government officials say the plan, which is meant to spur job growth and energy efficiency, avoids many of the problems of previous loan guarantees. How? By relying on both government and private investments; $2 billion from each over the next two years, to be exact. But what’s perhaps most interesting about this plan is what it says about the United States’ dedication to green technology and more energy-efficient commercial and industrial buildings.

Obama [was] joined by Clinton during a Washington, D.C., event Friday to sign a memorandum for a minimum of a $2 billion commitment from federal agencies over the next 24 months. The money will go toward hiring contractors to perform energy efficiency and other green upgrades at federal facilities. There also will be a $2 billion private-sector commitment, covering up to 1.6 billion square feet of commercial and independent property and involving roughly 300 manufacturing plants.

In this case, the U.S. government’s decision not to dwell on past mistakes certainly appears to be a good thing for the green building and energy efficiency industries at large. Here’s looking to a greener and more efficient future!

Gambling on Clean Energy

Posted: September 29, 2011 by , Category:Environment, events, Sustainability

If I was a betting woman…

I’d bet on clean energy.

Las Vegas hosted the National Clean Energy Summit 4.0 last month, and none other than Vice President Joe Biden himself was there to pledge allegiance to green cars, photovoltaics and wind turbines. He seemed sincerely passionate about the need for a renewable energy revolution. The event was held at the LEED Gold-certified Aria CityCenter, which looks like any other casino resort, but is far from it. What you can’t see is the waste heat co-generation facility, the water conservation efforts, the fresh air circulation or the electric vehicle charging station. Yes, at a casino. In Las Vegas. CityCenter’s commitment to the environment remarkably demonstrates that a community can be both beautiful and sustainable.

Imagine if the U.S. was the first country able to make solar power that is cheaper than coal. Imagine lithium-ion batteries made here that are capable of carrying an electric car 300 miles or more. Imagine being able to capture waste power from factories and vehicles and convert it to electricity. I think we’re going to see stunning breakthroughs.
-Joe Biden

These innovations will help the U.S. by spending less on imported oil from other nations, focusing our efforts to continue pushing the envelope when it comes to clean technologies.

There was also a panel presentation. Newly elected Nevada governor Brian Sandoval said that the state has made a commitment to use 20 percent renewable energy by 2020. If other states would piggy back off Nevada’s commitment, we would be on our way to a more sustainable America. (And well before the Architecture 2030 deadline, too!)

Can your building do this?

Posted: September 6, 2011 by , Category:Environment, Sustainability

What’s the equivalent of a Prius when it comes to green buildings? Well, the answer might be The Bullitt Center in Seattle, Washington. It just broke ground last week, and aims to be the first commercial building designed to carry its own environmental weight.

What does that mean — “carry its own environmental weight”?

It means that this building is taking sustainable design to the next level. This building is designed to produce as much energy as it consumes. To provide its own water, its own sewage. If you want to drive to work, you’ll have to find an alternate parking lot. Parking at The Bullitt Center will be reserved for bikes only.

You might be scratching your head and thinking this is crazy. But this is what sustainable design is all about!

Denis Hayes, president and CEO of the Bullitt Foundation, was quoted in a Seattle Times feature about the project, saying this is what we should have been doing 5, 10 years ago.

Conventional office buildings are getting greener, Hayes acknowledges. Many developers are designing their projects with green features to qualify for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, then marketing that label prominently.

But change isn’t happening fast enough to respond to climate change and other looming environmental problems, he said: “If the world had three or four centuries to address these challenges, we would be right on track.”

So what does this mean for our industry? This will force programs like LEED to take it to the next level, and for architects and designers to really incorporate sustainable design techniques into projects.

Building owners are going to be asking for these features in their buildings. And it’s possible, we just need to keep at it.

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