Rethinking Water, Reclaiming Water #WorldWaterDay

This year the World Economic Forum identified “water” as one of the top 5 biggest societal and economic risks for the next 10 years. Climate change is affecting the water cycle, with water variability increasing and extreme events (floods and droughts) becoming more common and increasingly costly. The impact that the built environment has on water management in just about every other sector is significant, making water performance of buildings a corporate or social responsibility issue.

Here in the UK we may not have the acute water issues as for example being experienced in Perth or in California where they have less than a year’s supply of water. This shortage is due to a number of reasons such as removing water from the aquifers and not returning it (or indeed returning it treated with chemicals, and the reduced levels of snowpack, acute this year, that top up these aquifers)

Yet, in the UK we are experiencing floods and water shortages, restrictions and droughts more frequently, so rethinking water, in design, in construction and in building operations can only be a good thing.

The UK Living Building Challenge Collaborative has been exploring the Challenges’ Water Imperative and developing an overlay or interpretation guide for UK projects and clients looking to adopt Living Building Challenge approaches.

The Water Petal intent is to To meet all water demands within the carrying capacity of the site and to mimic natural hydrological conditions, using appropriately-sized and climate-specific water management systems that treat, infiltrate or reuse all water resources on-site.

Lets unpick that a little …

“Water Demands” One theme emerging, from the work of this group and my visit to a number of LBC projects in the Pacific NW is that we need to rethink water and the performance of buildings in water management, giving it the same focus as we do energy. Not to see water as an additional design criteria, but to be at the core of design, calculating and seeking ways top reduce water load, as we would with energy.

Reducing ‘water load’ for a building use can be achieved through waterless or composting WC’s such as those in the Bullitt Centre or though recycled water systems such as the busy VanDusen botanical garden visitor Centre in Vancouver.

13.2-ReclaimedWater“All water” – the CIRS building at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver – a sustainability research lab – is utilizing a Solar Aquatic System designed to mimic the purification processes of naturally occurring water systems in close proximity to human inhabitation, such as streams and wetlands, to produce clean water for use in the building

“Net Positive” – LBC projects will be water net-positive, for example, via the large underground (56k gallon water tank)  the Bullitt Centre can survive for 104 days without accessing mains water, the CIRS building can supply grey water to adjacent buildings.

“Reuse” Good buildings will recycle and reuse grey water more than once using natural systems. And without using materials deemed ‘toxic”, i.e. those on the Living Building Challenge’s Red List such as Chlorine and PVC. On a domestic level, water reclaiming systems such as Nexus eWater are enabling the recycling of rain water and grey water many times in a domestic closed loop system

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Systems that treat Good buildings will treat all water on site, ensuring no leachates and other nasty’s run off into the ground, into water systems, just as trees do, and as trees did that most likely stood on the site in the past, ensuring the aquifers remained as pure as possible.

 

 

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Thinking beyond SUDS, Constructed wetlands can and arguably should be incorporated into the structure of the building as well as being part of the landscaping.

Viewing buildings as a system of interconnected buildings is key to integrated design, rather than seeing each as stand-alone buildings. Here great synergies can be gained, moving reclaimed or harvested water from one building to another to meet need, using buildings as storage or as filters for others.

 

Construction phase … projects can develop water hierarchies, as we do waste and energy hierarchies, perhaps with a water plan, addressing the question “Why do we use drinking quality water for washing down site plant, keeping dust down etc.”

And to FM and building operations – spreading the water conservation message, through signage and through occupant ‘charters’ can all help gain respect for special water technologies within the facility. Going further Catering and food outlets could serve two vegetarian meals for every one meat – as the CIRS building does – to reinforce the vastly different quantities of water required to provide meat produce and veg / fruit produce (not to mention energy and travel impact)

And, on drinking water The WELL Building Standard for Water requires and promotes safe and clean water through proper filtration and other methods, requiring the appropriate quality of water for various uses. Again without harmful chemicals or materials.

IMG_2035So on World Water Day, a call to UK universities with a strong built environment and sustainability programme and values. Make your next university estates project a sustainable water building, along the philosophy of the Living Building Challenge, as a research project as the CIRS building does, or as a demonstration of what is possible – core to the Bullitt Centre remit. Influencing and inspiring the next generation of built environment professionals is so important.

“The era of harm reduction, half steps, and lesser evils is behind us. As a society, we need to be bold in ways that were once unimaginable. Luckily in the building sector, we now can imagine where we need to go”

If you would like more information on the work of the UK Living Building Challenge or indeed on the standard itself, please get contact me on fairsnape@gmail.com or Donna on d.m.lee@leedsbeckett.ac.uk or indeed follow us on twitter @fairsnape and @livingbldgUK

Seattle, Vancouver and Squamish: a sustainability visit.

Having just returned from a visit / tour of sustainability projects in the Cascadia, NW pacific area of Seattle, Vancouver and Squamish, combined with a outdoor vacation, I am now sorting copious notes, photos and observations from the trip that will form future blog posts and inclusion in my forthcoming book, FutuREstorative.

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There were so many ‘highlights’ of the trip that will feature in future articles, but, as a quick summary:

The lack of snow inhibited any real winter sports without really venturing deep into backcountry. I was later to learn that this year ‘pineapple express’ wind and low snowpack levels will have an adverse affect on water aquifers across the region.

Walking and biking in forests where bear, cougar and coyote roamed and (worryingly, so early in the year) had been spotted during our visit introduced a fission of alertness not known in the UK or Europe and made for interesting discussions on re-wilding the UK countryside!

A return visit to the Austrian House at Lost lake Whistler, a Passive House gift from Austria to the 2006 Olympics and Canada’s first PH registered project.

Understanding the distinctive heavy timber architecture of the Squamish area, and visits to buildings at the stunning location of Quest Campus, Squamish and the Environmental Learning Centre at the North Vancouver Outdoor School in Brackendale (winner of a Wood Design Award held in Vancouver that week)

Meeting with Sustainable Leadership Conversation co-host and friend Andrea Learned who took me on a great cycle tour through her ‘hood –  the Seattle Ballard area and along the Waterfront with stop offs at the Tractor Tavern (home of garage and grunge) Stone34 (Leed Platinum Brooks HQ) finishing with great social media / sustainability discussions over dinner.

Visits to Living Building Challenge projects, the CIRS building at University of British Columbia, the Bullet Centre in Seattle and the VanDusen visitor centre Vancouver as well as understanding other notable sustainability buildings such as the MEC HQ in Vancouver and Stone34 in Seattle.

Water featured in visits and discussions, in particular that we should start to address water in the same way we do for energy performance in buildings – from the impact on “fossil-water” through to buildings, like the Bullitt Centre acting like trees and returning 80% of water that falls on the building to the aquifer and in using the 20% many times in closed loop systems. And of course those waterless composting toilets …

Whilst in the Bullitt Centre it was fun to to provide a live update back to and converse with the Living Building Challenge UK Collaborative water petal workshop in Leeds.

But it wasn’t just the big restorative sustainability concepts that inspired, often it’s the small but awesome detail that is essential in reinforcing the messages, like the CIRS building on UBC where the solar aqua filter plant room is positioned at the entrance, viewed by all entering the building as a reminder. But perhaps the best message being in CIRS café area where two vegetarian meals are served for each meat meal, reinforcing the message of the resources in land and water to provide the meat meal compared to that of the vegetarian.

File 17-03-2015 09 03 34It was of course great to visit the Bullitt Centre and question behind the stories covered on the web and numerous articles; it really is an inspiring building and lives up to its green reputation. But now the real challenge starts – “to replicate the Bullitt Centre a thousand, a million times and fast” Over an iced tea with Denis Hayes we discussed the real possibility of a Bullitt Centre type project in Manchester as the hub for iDSP, the Institute for Design Space and Place.

Many inspiring chats and discussions gave insights into restorative sustainability for example with Tim Herrin at CIRS, with Brad Khan who really knows the Bullitt Centre inside out, with Denis Hayes, with the LBC team (great to meet and catch up with Amanda Sturgeon, Eric Corey Freed,  Hilary Mayhew, Stacia and Bonnie) and, completely by chance, at a Vancouver dinner party, a planner involved in the LBC certified Childcare facility at Simon Fraser University. An evening meal with Ken Carty, author and retired political scientist at UBC provided interesting insights into Canadian politics.

I guess no visit to the Pacific NW could be complete without getting to understanding some of the environmental politics – particularly to the north of British Columbia where the TNG and the proposed Northern Gateway oil sands bitumen pipeline is being fought to prevent environmental damage to an awesome wilderness areas. A visit to the newly opened, community located, Patagonia store in Vancouver provided further insights to Patagonia’s environmental and responsibility activity in the area via their excellent ‘zine booklet published for the stores opening ‘In the Land of the Misty Giants’ (issuu version here)

I should of course mention the reason d’etre for the trip was triggered by my partner, Soo Downe and her midwifery week at UBC with the highlight of her public lecture at the Inaugural Elaine Carty Midwifery Programme (Storify here)

But who would of thought that Cows would feature in my tour. Denis Hayes kindly gifted me a copy of his new book Cowed co-written with his wife Gail Boyer Hayes. Cowed provides a fascinating insight to how Cows impact so much both on our lives and the environment and was a great read on the long flight back from Vancouver.

So, many people to thank for such a great vacation and study tour, from Brett at the awesome Squamish airBNB, Andrea Learned, the ILFI team, our friends and hosts in Vancouver, those who gave time to talk or provide tours, Denis Hayes, Tim Herring, Brad Kahn and many more. And of course great company, thanks Soo, Chris and Emma

Future posts will use the hashtags #futurestorative and/or #VanSea2015

Ecologically Rethinking Construction

Jonathan Dawson, head of economics at Schumacher College, writing on Guardian Sustainable Business asked “How do we redesign a new economic theory framed by ecological systems?”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA question we need to ask and start addressing within the built environment.

We are seeing a new vocabulary emerging with concepts such as biomimicry, zero or net energy, water and environmental impact, Living Buildings, biophillia, circular economy … and more … As the interest and importance of these concepts influence in the way we design, build and use buildings, do we need a new paradigm?  Some 15 years after Egan, do we need to again rethink construction to address these emergent sustainability themes. approaches and skills that once again the sector is lacking, engaging the economists, surveyors and accountants? As Jonathan Dawson comments:

Ecology offers the insight that the economy is best understood as a complex adaptive system, more a garden to be lovingly observed and tended than a machine to be regulated by mathematically calculable formulae.

A comment that makes a nice resonance with the Living Building Challenge philosophy

And of course a key element in this new thinking is the internet, web 2.0 and the power of social media.

Enabled by the growing power of information technology, whole new ways of doing business and organising society are emerging, whose strength lies not in economies of scale but in economies of co-operation and symbiosis

Over the weekend , via twitter I caught a slide via Rachel Armstrong illustrating the difference and need to move from 20th century Cartesian or Newtonian thinking into 21st complexity, emergent thinking …

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Jonathan Dawson: “This moment of history calls on us to rewrite the dictionary and create new stories, much as the generations following on from Copernicus did to reflect the new world-view that emerged from his astronomical insights”

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.

European monsoon

Just as I read in the Guardian about European monsoons, Gridworks colleague Pam over in Illinois blogs on her Public Works site about dealing with water quantity and a one in 500 year event.

Questions to be asked of our storm drainage perhaps?

Leo Hickman:

But discuss it we must, because talk of a “European monsoon” is increasing, not just due to this summer’s frequent cycle of deluges but last summer’s washout, too. Is a recognisable trend now occurring, whereby the prevailing westerly winds from the Atlantic, which weaken at the end of spring, pick up again at the beginning of June and bring with them wave after wave of rain-laden depressions that can last into July

Public Works Blog

We need to start questioning the (water quantity) standards under which we design – do they need to be updated to address any climate changes?