Building on Sustainability

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As global citizens we face numerous challenges: how to reinvent our cities, capture renewable energy, the future of transport and traffic, urban food supplies, green building and design, the role of technology and innovation and financing our expectations.

The Oregon Sustainability Act of 2001 defines sustainability as “using resources in a manner that enables people to meet their current needs while allowing for future generations to meet their needs.”

From the State of Oregon’s website on its sustainability program comes this: Sustainability is a uniquely broad and long-term concept that addresses quality of life and efficiency concerns. It takes into account both local and global views, applying a timeframe that considers costs and benefits over lifetimes rather than one- or two-year cycles.

Perhaps the most significant program that the State of Oregon established is the LEED approach (used in the ODOT building featured in this issue), which establishes standards and design check-lists to ensure that buildings are designed and built using strategies intended to improve performance in energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.

LEED was originally established in 1991 as state law, directing state agencies to work with the Oregon Department of Energy to ensure cost-effective energy conservation measures (ECMs) be included in new construction projects and major renovations to public buildings. Leased buildings are also required to be more energy efficient.

The law was revised in 2001 to require that all state facilities constructed on or after June 30, 2001, exceed the energy conservation provisions of the Oregon State Building Code by at least 20 percent. Existing buildings were also required to reduce energy use by 20 percent compared to the building’s baseline energy use in 2000, with energy conservation and efficiency projects in existing buildings allowed to be funded through energy savings performance contracts.

Increasingly pressure is being felt by multiple stakeholders to reduce the environmental and social impacts associated with consumption.

On a national level The Sustainability Consortium (TSC) works to develop methodologies and tools to help companies find innovative ways to make products with fewer environmental impacts.

The Consortium has over one hundred member organizations representing over $1.5 trillion in revenue employing over 57 million people. Members include such well known companies as Disney, Coca Cola, Best Buy, Walmart, General Mills, Samsung, Kellogg’s, McDonalds, Tyson and L’Oreal.

Walmart, for instance, shook up the retail landscape a few years ago when it announced it would begin surveying suppliers on their environmental performance in order to one day rate the sustainability of its products. It now works with TSC to develop strategies to drive a new generation of products and supply networks that address environmental, social and economic imperatives.

On the local level we’re really pleased to see that American Licorice, The Environmental Center and EarthShare-Oregon have collaborated to bring together leaders from Central Oregon’s business sectors who are interested in strengthening our local, sustainable economy. Together, they have founded The Sustainable Business Group, which meets monthly.

They’re convinced Central Oregon should be leading the way in the sustainable city movement. By connecting business leaders and innovators with each other, they hope to get more impact from local green efforts and develop a path for Central Oregon’s sustainability. (A series of the Sustainable Business meetings combine educational and networking opportunities. See more information and story on page 20 by Sweet Pea Cole.)

Sustainability is a long term approach to environmental protection that can prevent pollution from the start and develop fitting connections between the economy, the environment and social responsibility. Take an opportunity to attend the Sustainable Business meetings to discover the role you can play.

Do We Really Need All That Oil

In the New York Times recently Mark Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, said, ” It’s absolutely not true that we need natural gas, coal or oil – we think it’s a myth. You could power America with renewables from a technical and economic standpoint.” The biggest obstacles are social and political – what you need is the will to do it.

The Times reported that one of our own sources of oil, Canada, actually produced 63.4 percent of its electricity from renewable sources in 2011, largely from hydropower and a bit of wind. The United States got only 12.3 percent of its electricity from renewables in 2011.

It’s not simply a matter of just doing, however. As others point out a rapid expansion of renewable power would be complicated and costly. It would require modifying national power grids and renewable energy is still generally more expensive than using fossil fuels. Natural gas in the United States is plentiful and a cheap way to generate electricity; promoting more wind and solar means higher electricity costs.

The question to ask: do we need to keep drilling for more oil or focus on renewables that would be both cost effective and energy efficient?

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