Water Energy Nexus – a built environment mindfulness

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As a lead-up to Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, January 13-17, Masdar is sponsoring a blogging contest called “Engage: The Water-Energy Nexus.”

The winner will be invited to Abu Dhabi as VIP media to cover the week’s high-profile events.

The following is my entry. Please vote for me here

Water Energy Nexus – a built environment mindfulness

Could we be facing a near perfect storm within the built environment, as our sustainability efforts, our energy and water performance efforts, or perhaps lack of effort hit an environmental cliff.

Consider:

  • 85% of buildings that will be in use in 2050 are already standing today, and many many of them, commercial, leisure and domestic were designed and constructed prior to any meaningful sustainability guidelines. Buildings that are water energy cavelier, designed and managed with a cornucopia view of resources
  • The built environment sector is often called the 40% sector on account of using 40% of the worlds resources, energy and water whilst generating 40% of the worlds waste.
  • Increasingly our lifestyles, workstyles and infrastructure styles are demand evermore energy and water.
  • We are making poor, behind target progress on energy reduction, water conservation and carbon reduction through our design, construction and use of buildings
  • Even today in 2012 water lacks behind energy in performance import for new build and refurbishment
  • We have a facilities management profession that adopts a status quo maintainence basis, often with low level SLA’s demanding same focus as water and in some cases energy performance
  • We are entering a future of big data, where rational, cold evidence based approaches will dominate, driven by Building Information Management. Whilst a very welcomed performance improvement for the sector we may be in danger of loosing the experience intuitive.
  • The dominating sustainable construction codes such as BREEAM and LEED are in danger of becoming corporate checklists, often criticised for the ability to trade water performance points against cycle travel provision points.

Addressing a Water / Energy Nexus

Looking forward the built environment should be looking for both strategic data-driven leaders and managers balanced with strategic creative leaders. This is particularly the case in facilities management sector, where the intuition that comes from deep knowledge of how buildings use water and energy, once a key skill of the building facilities manager that we are sadly loosing and one of the key green skills to rekindle.

We have a need for ‘Mindfulness’ in the built environment. A deep green understanding of the buildings relationship with nature, guided by building codes and green sustainability standards. And as a designer, as a builder as an inhabitant, develop an in-the-moment awareness connectivity or dis-connectivity with the nature and water / energy resources.

We need a move away from assessments looking at impact on the environment, but rather turning tables to look at how the facility connects with nature and its environment.

We can see standards such as the Living Building Challenge as a way forward with each building regarded as a flower, using only the water and energy that falls on the building.

We need new levels of engagement and relationship between building and user. For example the CIRS Vancouver UBC building, itself a LBC accredited building, refers to its users as inhabitants – requiring each to sign a charter that recognises the engagement expected

As I wrote in an earlier blog we need 3 New ‘R’s for built environment sustainability, and its impact on the water energy nexus

Re-Design. No longer are transactional efforts in conserving water and energy enough. Radical revolution in design thinking needed that encompasses Cradle to Cradle thinking, Circular Economy,

Re-Connect. Time to rethink our relationship with nature, a relationship that is deeper, that is deep green mindfulness. A direction that Living Building Challenge promotes – every building contributing to, not taking from its environment.

Re-Kindle. Time to rekindle the sustainability water / energy debate – moving away from the negative, harassment to doing less bad, to encouraging a move towards a positive new world of doing more good, better. Fostering Resilience.

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