If zero carbon is the answer then just what was the question
Is it ‘just because’ I am currently seeing things from a different perspective as I re-read Cradle to Cradle, (which I feel has more resonance with where we are now) but a number of recent issues and events have left me questioning our approach to zero, and that going to zero is not enough. Indeed it may even be dangerous ‘just’ going to zero.
Lets consider the built environment in its widest sense, not just from design to FM but from wining raw materials through construction to end users, and consider the opening premise from Cradle to Cradle, and ask who today would allow a sector to :
Put billions of pounds of toxic materials in the air water and ground every year
Produces materials so dangerous they require constant vigilance by future generations
Results in gigantic volume of waste
Puts valuable materials in holes all over the planet
Requires thousands of complex regulations – not to keep people and nature safe, but to keep them from being poisoned too quickly
Measures productivity based on how few people are working?
Creates prosperity by digging up or cutting down natural resources and then burning or burying them
Erodes the diversity of species and cultural practices.
McDonough and Braunghart were referring to the industrial revolution in these ‘consequences’, but they do describe the construction sector oh so well. OK so no-one today would allow such a sector which exhibited these ‘by- products’ a licence to trade, so why then do we allow the ‘built environment’ to continue doing so but at a reduced rate? As McDonough and Braunghart comment – doing only a little good may well be doing no good.
Indeed Janis Birkeland comments in her argument for Positive Development – if we build all new buildings to the highest, greenest standards, then the net contribution to carbon reductions would be only 0.04%.
And with this in mind, the questions that kept forming last week included:
How much do we spend within the global built environment on waste management, (disposal, recycling, regulation, etc) in comparison to the amount spent on eliminating waste full stop, through for example cradle-to-cradle paradigm thinking?
A rule of thumb is that the built environment uses 40% materials, creates 40% waste and generates 40% emissions. Ed Mazria from Architecture 2030 puts this figure higher at 48.5%. We need to monitor and watch these figures reduce, but at the moment the production of cement remains responsible for about 7% of all carbon dioxide emissions. Am I the only one who feels guilty with these?
Indeed another rule of thumb puts the quarrying sector at a third contribution – but what proportion from this sector is used to derive materials for construction? If the Cradle to Cradle authors are correct then the consumer (end user) only deals with 5% of the total waste of a product, the remainder 95% is waste created in manufacture.
So why are zero carbon definitions largely ignoring embodied energy and putting them in the ‘too difficult to deal with box’ ? Dealing only or mainly with a carbon zero definition for buildings in use?
Passivhaus is emerging as the aspirational darling or solution. But what is the true embodied energy of passivhaus, in particular the massive amounts of insulation, sheeting and duct tape? Passivhaus will reduce energy requirements and costs. Excellent. But I would love to see the payback time on the total and higher than normal embodied energies and waste.
Why are plastic, polyurethane and uvpc now considered green (such products now abound at eco exhibitions and within green guides) based it would seem solely on their performance, not on the harm done during production.
Why doesn’t BREEAM and LEED make more of a focus on embodied energy in its scoring?
Oh and why isn’t responsible sourcing to BS6000 more widely known or enforced?
Are we trying to solve the built environment environmental problems with the same mode of thinking that created them in the first place? I have always accepted that within sustainability we will make mistakes, take dead ends and end up in cul de sacs, and that this is all part of the learning and moving forward. But is time running our too quickly, to be so ‘narrow’ and we are just storing another problem for future generations to deal with?
Are we looking down the telescope the wrong way? Turn it around and we may see the scale and maybe solutions to our problems.
We are in a period of developing strategies, codes and defining zero carbon itself. Now is the time for that debate to be wider, for a collaborative debate across the sectors that make up the built environment, from raw materials to end users. And here is where I mention be2camp, as it is through web technologies (in both the widest and most specific aspects) that will allow and enable such debate and dialogue to take place.
And as the Cradle-to-Cradle sub heading says – its time to remake the way we make things
(This is a rewitten and shortened and hopefully bettered reasoned version of the rant I started at the end of last week)