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American Today


Smarter Living

By Charles Spencer

Congressman Russ Carnahan speaks at AU's School of International Service.

At SIS's "Smarter Living" panel discussion U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan said “A national commitment to green building has the potential to generate over 2 million American jobs.” [Photo: Jeff Watts]

An exhibition and discussion exploring approaches to sustainable architecture, featuring U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Missouri), found the perfect venue.

The LEED Gold-certified School of International Service Building.

The U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design designation certifies a building was designed and built to improve energy and water-use efficiency, reduce carbon emissions, and show sensitivity to environmental impacts.

The Smarter Living Exhibition uses 18 examples of outstanding architecture to illustrate approaches to sustainable architecture on projects large and small, on both new buildings and conversions.

Keynote speaker Carnahan, acknowledging the divided Congress’s low public approval ratings, said proposals to invest in infrastructure could win bipartisan support. Carnahan also noted that the U.S. building construction industry represents about 15 percent of America’s GDP.

But further growth is possible.

“A national commitment to green building has the potential to generate over 2 million American jobs,” said Carnahan, a member of Congress’s High-Performance Buildings Caucus.

Buildings consume massive amounts of energy, both directly and through such “gray energy” costs as the energy required to produce building materials. Ambassador Manuel Sager of Switzerland noted that buildings account for 40 percent of energy consumption.

Lowering energy consumption is the goal of the 2000-Watt Society, a legislative goal of the Zurich city council and part of its legislative code. The goal is by 2150 to reduce each person’s annual energy use from the current 6,300 watts to 2,000 watts, and to reduce CO2 emissions from 8.5 tons to 1 ton.

By contrast, U.S. energy consumption is 12,000 watts per person, said architect Stephan Tanner, a principal at INTEP and designer of one of the most energy-efficient buildings in North America, the Waldsee BioHaus Environmental Living Center in Minnesota.

Architect David Bell, a principal of Bell Architects, said that LEED has been “a game-changer” in promoting sustainability and more efficient energy use in buildings, and measures such as the Architecture 2030 Challenge, which pushes buildings to be carbon neutral by 2030, can help buildings become more energy efficient and reduce the use of materials that produce byproduct greenhouse gases.

Yet persuading clients to accept more efficient and sustainable designs can be a challenge, the architects agreed. Short-term up-front savings can command clients’ attention; long-term true costs often get ignored.

Whatever the challenges, building more energy-efficient buildings is doable.

“This effort and the technologies involved are not state of the art, it’s state of the shelf,” said Paul Wapner, SIS professor and director of SIS’s Global Environmental Politics Program. “We can do this now. This is a question of political will more than it’s a question of technological capability.”

Architect Victoria Kiechel of the Cadmus Group, who is also an adjunct SIS faculty member, agreed.

“A lot of my friends were born in the era when the space race was really big,” Kiechel said. “There was a junior high school national push for magnet schools because of Sputnik, and I’d love to think that in us we have the ability to create something like that for 11- and 12-year-olds and13-year-olds around the idea of buildings, energy efficiency, environmentalism, where you’re basically educating the young. Because that’s the way the change will happen. It’s through the young goading the old, frankly. That’s how my mother’s generation stopped smoking and that’s how this will get done in the future.”

Hosted by the School of International Service and the Embassy of Switzerland, “Building Sustainability: Frontiers of Architecture and Policy,” and the exhibit, “Smarter Living: The 2,000-Watt Society,” addressed political as well as technical questions about sustainable buildings. The event was part of the American Institute of Architects’ Architecture Week in Washington, D.C.