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Aaron
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PostSubject: Defining Sustainablity   Sun Dec 13, 2009 4:25 pm

There's a lot of media attention paid to "green living" and "sustainability" and it's usually assumed what's meant by the terminology.

It tends to look something like this...
Quote :
The most popular definition of sustainability can be traced to a 1987 UN conference. It defined sustainable developments as those that "meet present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs"(WECD, 1987). Robert Gillman, editor of the In Context magazine, extends this goal oriented definition by stating "sustainability refers to a very old and simple concept (The Golden Rule)...do onto future generations as you would have them do onto you."

The problem is figuring out how to go about "meeting one's present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs". What does that look like? What activities have the potential of compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs and what activities don't?

I find precious little information that attempts to answer those questions.

Any thoughts?

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PostSubject: Re: Defining Sustainablity   Sun Dec 13, 2009 8:24 pm

Aaron wrote:
The problem is figuring out how to go about "meeting one's present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs". What does that look like? What activities have the potential of compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs and what activities don't?

Green Design and Sustainability are hot topics in my field these days. As designers of buildings that consume a large percentage of the energy and materials available, Architects are bombarded with articles on these topics, from within the profession, and from manufacturers wanting to sell their products.

But, due to the political, economic, and technical complexities of sustainability, giving a simple answer to your question is not so easy. But designers and builders have been given checklists that itemize some of those "sustainable" methods and materials, after a long debating and vetting process.

One such list, that is now being mandated by large corporations and government entities, is the LEED program. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. Here's a list to give you an overview of the many considerations that are involved in "being Green".

LEED Checklist:
http://www.usgbc.org/ShowFile.aspx?DocumentID=1095

PS---I'll post a link to a Green essay as soon as I get my FTP software working again.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainable_design

PPS---I read the Schumacher book SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL back in the 70s, and was impressed with his wisdom. He used the medieval metaphor of the "Great Chain of Being" as a model for his New Agey worldview. With a little updating, it could also apply to Contemporary Deism.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_chain_of_being
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PostSubject: Re: Defining Sustainablity   Mon Dec 14, 2009 8:18 pm

Yes, working as a design engineer in the lighting industry I'm very familiar with LEED (I also have a degree in Architecture). I think it's a good standard for individual buildings. It would be nice if they had a town planning and urban design equivalent.

I'd also like to see something like that extended into the transportation sector, food and consumer goods.

Until they come up with something I guess we are stuck trying to figure out "sustainability" for ourselves.

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PostSubject: Re: Defining Sustainablity   Mon Dec 14, 2009 8:43 pm

Aaron wrote:
Yes, working as a design engineer in the lighting industry I'm very familiar with LEED (I also have a degree in Architecture). I think it's a good standard for individual buildings. It would be nice if they had a town planning and urban design equivalent.

I'd also like to see something like that extended into the transportation sector, food and consumer goods.

Until they come up with something I guess we are stuck trying to figure out "sustainability" for ourselves.

The USGBC may be working on LEED lists specifically for urban design & planning. The other sectors will probably have to come up with their own guidelines.

Unfortunately, sustainability is subject to some of the same political polarization that retards the progress of climate change corrections. The science is still vague enough to allow for broad interpretations. One result is "greenwashing" and another is economic skepticism.

Most of my small clients are all-for Sustainable "Green" Design until I tell them it will cost them extra upfront, and the payback is uncertain. If they are not willing to accept the cost and the risk of cutting-edge approaches, I give them Standard Design, which is more sustainable than it was a few years ago, due in part to more stringent codes and regulations.
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PostSubject: Re: Defining Sustainablity   Tue Dec 15, 2009 2:13 pm

Aaron wrote:
Yes, working as a design engineer in the lighting industry I'm very familiar with LEED (I also have a degree in Architecture).

Coincidentally, the LEED Coordinator on our design team for a project that is just now beginning construction is also an Electrical Engineer/ Lighting Designer who has a degree in Architecture. Small world. Smile
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PostSubject: Re: Defining Sustainablity   Wed Dec 16, 2009 12:17 am

Small world indeed, although I'm a product design engineer, not a lighting designer. Maybe you've heard of Elliptipar?

But yes it's hard to know how to define sustainability without a full, comprehensive and comparative life-cycle analysis of all products and systems involved. We also don't know what technologies will be developed in the future that may make much of the discussion of sustainability moot.

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PostSubject: Re: Defining Sustainablity   Tue Dec 22, 2009 12:19 pm

The following article illustrates some of the problems in defining sustainability.

Quote :
Polluting pets: the devastating impact of man's best friend

PARIS (AFP) Man's best friend could be one of the environment's worst enemies, according to a new study which says the carbon pawprint of a pet dog is more than double that of a gas-guzzling sports utility vehicle.

But the revelation in the book "Time to Eat the Dog: The Real Guide to Sustainable Living" by New Zealanders Robert and Brenda Vale has angered pet owners who feel they are being singled out as troublemakers.

The Vales, specialists in sustainable living at Victoria University of Wellington, analysed popular brands of pet food and calculated that a medium-sized dog eats around 164 kilos (360 pounds) of meat and 95 kilos of cereal a year.

Combine the land required to generate its food and a "medium" sized dog has an annual footprint of 0.84 hectares (2.07 acres) -- around twice the 0.41 hectares required by a 4x4 driving 10,000 kilometres (6,200 miles) a year, including energy to build the car.

To confirm the results, the New Scientist magazine asked John Barrett at the Stockholm Environment Institute in York, Britain, to calculate eco-pawprints based on his own data. The results were essentially the same.

"Owning a dog really is quite an extravagance, mainly because of the carbon footprint of meat," Barrett said.

Other animals aren't much better for the environment, the Vales say.

Cats have an eco-footprint of about 0.15 hectares, slightly less than driving a Volkswagen Golf for a year, while two hamsters equates to a plasma television and even the humble goldfish burns energy equivalent to two mobile telephones.

But Reha Huttin, president of France's 30 Million Friends animal rights foundation says the human impact of eliminating pets would be equally devastating.

"Pets are anti-depressants, they help us cope with stress, they are good for the elderly," Huttin told AFP.

"Everyone should work out their own environmental impact. I should be allowed to say that I walk instead of using my car and that I don't eat meat, so why shouldn't I be allowed to have a little cat to alleviate my loneliness?"

Sylvie Comont, proud owner of seven cats and two dogs -- the environmental equivalent of a small fleet of cars -- says defiantly, "Our animals give us so much that I don't feel like a polluter at all.

"I think the love we have for our animals and what they contribute to our lives outweighs the environmental considerations.

"I don't want a life without animals," she told AFP.

And pets' environmental impact is not limited to their carbon footprint, as cats and dogs devastate wildlife, spread disease and pollute waterways, the Vales say.

With a total 7.7 million cats in Britain, more than 188 million wild animals are hunted, killed and eaten by feline predators per year, or an average 25 birds, mammals and frogs per cat, according to figures in the New Scientist.

Likewise, dogs decrease biodiversity in areas they are walked, while their faeces cause high bacterial levels in rivers and streams, making the water unsafe to drink, starving waterways of oxygen and killing aquatic life.

And cat poo can be even more toxic than doggy doo -- owners who flush their litter down the toilet ultimately infect sea otters and other animals with toxoplasma gondii, which causes a killer brain disease.

But despite the apocalyptic visions of domesticated animals' environmental impact, solutions exist, including reducing pets' protein-rich meat intake.

"If pussy is scoffing 'Fancy Feast' -- or some other food made from choice cuts of meat -- then the relative impact is likely to be high," said Robert Vale.

"If, on the other hand, the cat is fed on fish heads and other leftovers from the fishmonger, the impact will be lower."

Other potential positive steps include avoiding walking your dog in wildlife-rich areas and keeping your cat indoors at night when it has a particular thirst for other, smaller animals' blood.

As with buying a car, humans are also encouraged to take the environmental impact of their future possession/companion into account.

But the best way of compensating for that paw or clawprint is to make sure your animal is dual purpose, the Vales urge. Get a hen, which offsets its impact by laying edible eggs, or a rabbit, prepared to make the ultimate environmental sacrifice by ending up on the dinner table.

"Rabbits are good, provided you eat them," said Robert Vale.
http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20091220/sc_afp/lifestyleclimatewarminganimalsfood

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PostSubject: Re: Defining Sustainablity   Wed Dec 23, 2009 1:24 pm

Quote :
The following article illustrates some of the problems in defining sustainability.
Yeah.
Sustainability is a laudable general goal, but the path must be redefined for each sub-goal along the way. Tampering with Nature often results in unintended consequences.
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PostSubject: Re: Defining Sustainablity   Wed Dec 23, 2009 8:27 pm

I would like to see the methodologies and assumptions used to come to their conclusion. As far as I know the study wasn't peer reviewed.

It occurred to me that the study of sustainability is such a large and in-depth topic that we may end up seeing a branch of science sprout up around it.

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PostSubject: Re: Defining Sustainablity   Fri Dec 25, 2009 6:05 pm

Another so-called scientific study I read about a year ago calculated the amount of food one must eat in order to generate the energy needed to walk to the local Farmer's Market, compared to driving there - and came to the conclusion that it was a draw. It was also not peer reviewed.

The problem with scientific studies is the human element required. First, gather data (so far, so good) then compile and analyze the data (sounds very scientific) lastly, draw conclusions. It's that last part that troubles me. d'oh

If common sense were as common as the term implies, we would all do sensible things like combining errands to avoid extraneous trips. Such behavior may help "save the planet", but they also save the individual time and money. Most people are inherently greedy, so appealing to that greed will likely produce more cooperation.

I switched to CFL's to save money. You may scoff at my motives, but I'm still "doing my part". cheers
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PostSubject: Re: Defining Sustainablity   Fri Dec 25, 2009 7:10 pm

Paul Anthony wrote:
I switched to CFL's to save money. You may scoff at my motives, but I'm still "doing my part". cheers

I think that's a perfectly valid reason. Smile

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PostSubject: Re: Defining Sustainablity   Fri Dec 25, 2009 8:31 pm

We are all too often mislead by the politics of the proposals, when most of us are sincere in our desire to do some good. The Ethanol fiasco is a good example. Using a food product (corn) to produce fuel was a misguided idea to begin with, but the ramifications even took me by surprise. The shortages of corn caused increased famine! Then we learned that the footprint of production of ethanol exceeded the benefit - and ethanol creates more pollution than gasoline! Yet we are still mandated to add ethanol to our fuel because congressmen from the corn-producing states perpetuate the lie that it is the right thing to do.

An engineer friend of mine, after building several solar panels, calculated the amount of energy one can expect a panel to produce in its "lifetime". Then he compared that to the energy expended to build the panel. His conclusion? Given the current state of solar technology, we will never get back the energy used! Meanwhile, the gov't still gives tax credits for solar installations.
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PostSubject: Re: Defining Sustainablity   Sat Dec 26, 2009 12:36 am

I hear you about the corn ethanol.

Found this on Wikipedia regarding PV Solar however.
Quote :
Life cycle greenhouse gas emissions are now in the range of 25-32 g/kWh and this could decrease to 15 g/kWh in the future. For comparison (of weighted averages), a combined cycle gas-fired power plant emits some 400-599 g/kWh, an oil-fired power plant 893 g/kWh, a coal-fired power plant 915-994 g/kWh or with carbon capture and storage some 200 g/kWh, and a geothermal high-temp. power plant 91-122 g/kWh. Only nuclear, wind and geothermal low-temp. are better, emitting 6-25 g/kWh, 11 g/kWh and 0-1 g/kWh on average. Using renewable energy sources in manufacturing and transportation would further drop carbon emissions. BP Solar owns two factories built by Solarex (one in Maryland, the other in Virginia) in which all of the energy used to manufacture solar panels is produced by solar panels.

Energy payback time and energy returned on energy invested
The energy payback time is the time required to produce an amount of energy as great as what was consumed during production. The energy payback time is determined from a life cycle analysis of energy. The energy needed to produce solar panels will be paid back in the first few years of use.

Another key indicator of environmental performance, tightly related to the energy payback time, is the ratio of electricity generated divided by the energy required to build and maintain the equipment. This ratio is called the energy returned on energy invested (EROEI). Of course, little is gained if it takes as much energy to produce the modules as they produce in their lifetimes. This should not be confused with the economic return on investment, which varies according to local energy prices, subsidies available and metering techniques.

Life-cycle analyses show that the energy intensity of typical solar photovoltaic technologies is rapidly evolving. In 2000 the energy payback time was estimated as 8 to 11 years, but more recent studies suggest that technological progress has reduced this to 1.5 to 3.5 years for crystalline silicon PV systems .

Thin film technologies now have energy pay-back times in the range of 1-1.5 years (S.Europe). With lifetimes of such systems of at least 30 years[citation needed], the EROEI is in the range of 10 to 30. They thus generate enough energy over their lifetimes to reproduce themselves many times (6-31 reproductions, the EROEI is a bit lower) depending on what type of material, balance of system (or BOS), and the geographic location of the system.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photovoltaics#Environmental_impacts

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PostSubject: Re: Defining Sustainablity   Sat Dec 26, 2009 7:38 pm

I wonder...

Are they talking about the energy to assemble the parts, or did they include the energy expended in making the components from raw materials? How about gathering and transporting those materials to the assembly facility? This is not clear enough to be convincing.
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PostSubject: Re: Defining Sustainablity   Sat Dec 26, 2009 8:33 pm

Paul Anthony wrote:
I wonder...

Are they talking about the energy to assemble the parts, or did they include the energy expended in making the components from raw materials? How about gathering and transporting those materials to the assembly facility? This is not clear enough to be convincing.

Yeah I had the same questions regarding the SUV/dog study.

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PostSubject: Re: Defining Sustainablity   Sun Dec 27, 2009 7:44 pm

Aaron wrote:
I would like to see the methodologies and assumptions used to come to their conclusion. As far as I know the study wasn't peer reviewed.

It occurred to me that the study of sustainability is such a large and in-depth topic that we may end up seeing a branch of science sprout up around it.

There are already some seeds for a science of sustainability. The Rocky Mountain Institute, headed by Amory Lovins, may be the best known :

The Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) is an organization in the United States dedicated to research, publication, consulting, and lecturing in the general field of sustainability, with a special focus on profitable innovations for energy and resource efficiency.

http://www.rmi.org/rmi/

Here's one example of a government agency trying to make sustainable design decisions easier:

BEES measures the environmental performance of building products by using the life-cycle assessment approach specified in the ISO 14040 series of standards. All stages in the life of a product are analyzed: raw material acquisition, manufacture, transportation, installation, use, and recycling and waste management. Economic performance is measured using the ASTM standard life-cycle cost method, which covers the costs of initial investment, replacement, operation, maintenance and repair, and disposal. Environmental and economic performance are combined into an overall performance measure using the ASTM standard for Multi-Attribute Decision Analysis.

http://www.bfrl.nist.gov/oae/software/bees/
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PostSubject: Re: Defining Sustainablity   Sun Dec 27, 2009 11:25 pm

BEES looks interesting. It says a printer is required. Mine died, but I'll revisit the site when I get around to getting another one.
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PostSubject: Re: Defining Sustainablity   Sat Jan 02, 2010 2:54 pm

Those poor environmentalists! They really are conflicted.

Most environmentalists encourage the development of new energy sources to allow us to reduce the use of fossil fuels, but...

An Oakland-based company has proposed the construction of a massive solar energy producing plant in the Mojave dessert. The only opposition has come from...environmentalists!

It seems the area is the natural habitat of an endangered species of tortoise. They want the company to spend 25 million dollars to create a new habitat and relocate the tortoises - all 25 of them.

I think the money would be better spent creating a habitat for environmentalists.
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PostSubject: Re: Defining Sustainablity   Sat Jan 02, 2010 7:36 pm

Quote :
They want the company to spend 25 million dollars to create a new habitat and relocate the tortoises - all 25 of them.

These extreme environmentalists remind me of the Jains in India, who profess respect for all living things, and who wear cloth masks over mouth and nose to avoid inhaling and inadvertently killing flying gnats. Their piety seems admirable, but their idealism seems misplaced in a dog-eat-dog world.

Tortoises are accorded equal value with humans as "agents" of the ecosystem. Hence tortoise "culture" is just as important as human culture. Egalitarianism has the advantage that everyone fits in the same size niche, so we are not forced to make moral choices in a variable value hierarchy.

But it has the disadvantage of placing humans on the same moral plane with gnats. I wonder if the gnats and tortoises are so enlightened as to show us the same respect.
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