Environment Forum

A Truly “Green” Building Technology

A woman reads a book in a rooftop garden of an apartment building overlooking a residential area of Tokyo August 5, 2002. Trapped by concrete and asphalt, heat from heavy traffic and millions of air-conditioning units have made summer in the cities hotter - a phenomenon known as “heat-island effect.” By converting a bare roof top into a green oasis, it helps absorb heat and keeps temperatures inside the building lower. REUTERS/Yuriko NakaoThe symbolic color associated with environmentalism is obviously “green.” 

From ‘green movement,’ ‘Green Party,’ ‘green collar jobs,’ to ‘Greenpeace,’ the color reference is to plants, chlorophyll, the green pigment central to photosynthesis, which is the basis of all life. Quite often, however, the chief environmental goal being advocated has little to do with plants, but rather promoting low-impact technologies, practices and lifestyles.

This is the case with “green building design” which is receiving growing attention because of the under-appreciated magnitude of building emissions worldwide. Recently, New York City audited the source of all its CO2 emissions and found that nearly 80 percent is from building energy consumption. Worldwide the estimate is closer to 45 percent, making “buildings the biggest single contributor to anthropogenic climate change – a worse offender than all the world’s cars and trucks put together.”

The vast bulk of green building design focuses on efficient heating, cooling, lighting,  insulation and window technologies. All of these are great things of course, but what’s not mentioned in the Nature article is a truly ‘green’ building technology – living green roofs and living walls. These are technologies that introduce plants into building facades, especially rooftops.
John Volk, executive secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation, stands atop the vegetated rooftop of the first “green” building on Capitol Hill in Washington July 12, 2007. The landscaped roof controls runoff and helps control the temperature of the building. The FCNL Green Building is the office for the Quaker Lobby group in Washington. The building, which has been transformed from two historic Civil War era row houses, is being described as an example of practical ways to protect the environment by reducing energy consumption. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES)

Typical dark rooftop temperatures in summer sunlight can reach extraordinary levels of 150 degrees F (~65 degrees C) or more. It makes little sense not to address such an extreme building heat source in green building design. Moreover, in cities, rooftops, among other dark, impervious surfaces like streets and parking areas are a chief contributor to the “urban heat island” effect which elevates the temperature and climate in cities well above surrounding suburban and rural areas. This extra heat can be deadly during heatwaves, especially if air-conditioning is not available or fails during blackouts. Resident proximity to high-floors and rooftops was a risk factor in both the deadly 1995 Chicago and 2003 European heat waves.

Way better than the subway

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There are plenty of ways to get around New York City, not all of them savory — subway, bus, car, taxi, bike, shoe-leather — but few offer the environmental cachet of the plug-in electric motorbike. Sleek, slim and silent, the Vectrix two-seater owned by filmmaker Michael Bergmann is definitely preferable to rocketing around town under almost any other kind of power. The ride from the East Side to the West Side one recent evening was an absolute pleasure, with less ambient noise than a golf cart as we zoomed across Central Park.

“I’ve always felt that enjoying life in New York to the fullest requires a way to get around New York,” Bergmann said later in an e-mail. “A way that’s quiet and up on the surface so you can enjoy the varied life and changing neighborhoods as you travel. That requires a vehicle that’s street legal (so I don’t worry about being stopped or having it confiscated), always available, that isn’t hard to park, that doesn’t contribute to congestion or pollution (air or noise), that can carry the amount of stuff one ordinarily carries, and carry a passenger as well. So as soon as I found out about the Vectrix I wanted one.”

Vectrix, headquartered in Rhode Island, first started selling its electric plug-in motorbikes in Europe and is now expanding in the U.S. market. The company bills its plug-in model as “an advanced zero-emission, battery-powered motorcycle,” with comparable performance to a 400cc gas-powered motorcycle.

Planet not dim to turn off the lights?

skyline1.jpgPerhaps 50 million people took part in a global Earth Hour campaign to turn out the lights for an hour at 8 p.m. on Saturday to put attention on global warming, organisers said. Did you?

    In Australia, one survey showed that more than half the adults turned off the lights, they said. Bangkok saved 73.3 megawatts, or the equivalent of switching off 2 million fluorescent lights, and organisers said electricity use dropped 8.7 percent in Toronto, Canada.

    You don’t have to be a tree-hugging socialist to see that it makes sense to turn off unnecessary lights and electrical appliances, although it obviously only makes sense if you do so all the time and not as a gimmick one Saturday night a year.

Is lights off campaign a turn-off?

A workman holds onto a 32 metre balloon in the shape of a light bulb on Sydney Harbour to promote the Earth Hour event March 19, 2008. Earth Hour is to be held at 8pm on March 29 where the public and business worldwide are encouraged to switch off their lights to join the fight against climate change. REUTERS/Mick Tsikas (AUSTRALIA)Millions of people around the world are set to turn off lights and electrical appliances at 8 p.m. local time on Saturday, March 29, to highlight the problem of global warming.

Landmarks from the Sydney Opera House to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco  plan to turn off their lights for the event, pioneered by Australia last year.

Organisers of “Earth Hour” say the idea is to make people aware of the links between global warming and electricity, which is usually generated by burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil which emit greenhouse gases. They say 24 large cities around the world are taking part.  Last year 2.2 million Sydney residents switched off the lights.

Substance trumps style at climate talks

bento21.JPG   It was like a scene from the future. A carpark brimming with fuel-cell and hydrogen-powered cars, while fuel-cell buses ferried delegates to lunch near the modern conference centre outside Tokyo.

   Japan was determined to display its green credentials at weekend G20 talks, one of the biggest meetings of the world’s top greenhouse gas emitters since last December’s Bali gathering. Even conference staff were given chopsticks and traditional “bento” boxes that could be reused instead of the usual throw-away items.

    Inside the conference hall, though, delegates were more interested in substance than style as they discussed ways to agree on a global pact by the end of 2009 to curb growing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

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