Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Most of us take plentiful access to drinking water for granted, and don't think twice about how much we waste when we install inefficient plumbing fixtures, leave the water running when we don't need to, and plant lawns, flowers and ornamental shrubs that require frequent irrigation.
Okay, I'm cheating here --- there was never much rainfall in the land occupied in the Navajo Nation, and brackish water is not a new problem in this area. But potable water is becoming an increasingly scarce resource, even in the U.S. And there's increasing pressure to allow hydro-fracking, even where it could affect all of our drinking water.
40 percent of the population on some parts of the Navajo Nation does not have access to potable water. That doesn’t just mean drinking water. The water is not even good enough to bathe in, wash dishes, irrigate a vegetable garden or quench the thirst of livestock. Many Navajos have to make long trips every few days to haul water from communal wells. A large part of the problem is that most of the groundwater of the Navajo Nation is salty, brackish and impossible to drink because it comes through a salt cavern.
Scientists from the University of Arizona and the Bureau of Reclamation took on a project to design and build an off-the-grid prototype solar solution that would purify existing undrinkable water. The system co-generation solar system will produce heat and electricity to run the entire desalination system without being tied to the grid.
Thursday, June 28, 2012
During a conversation about the impact of indoor environmental quality on employee productivity, someone I know said "All of the evidence is anecdotal." But when there is a great deal of anecdotal evidence linking improved indoor environmental quality to reduced absenteeism, the odds are that the correlation does have significance.
Using absenteeism to evaluate the impact of indoor environmental quality on productivity is like using fatalities to evaluate car safety. In both cases, only the most extreme impacts are considered.
Often people continue to work while suffering from respiratory problems, itchy or teary eyes, headaches and other symptoms associated with poor indoor air quality, but that their performance could probablly be improved if they felt better.
The most commonly accepted theories on individual job performance posit that it depends upon on three factors:
- Declarative Knowledge - Knowing What to Do
- Procedural Knowledge - Knowing How to Do It
- Motivation - Choice to Expend Effort
There is a growing body of empirical evidence that indoor environmental quality affects health and performance. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is developing a data base of scientific research with funding support from the EPA. Here's a link to that site:
Indoor Air Quality Resource Bank
Monday, May 7, 2012
If you or any of your colleagues are going to NeoCon next month, you might be interested in attending my presentation, "Stragegic Planning for Healthier Indoor Environments."
If you are wondering why I'll be starting my talk with this lovely photograph of fresh vegetables, it's because people will pay a considerable premium for healthy, organic food. Although Whole Foods seems to spend a fortune on prime real estate and beautiful decor, it is three times more profitable than the average supermarket chain.
Of course, we breate considerably more than we eat. And indoor air usually contains a lot of toxins, many of which can be easily avoided by proper design and construction.
Sunday, April 22, 2012
The Empire State Building is a symbol of many of the best things about New York City. Its owners, the Malkin family, have paved the way to a better understanding of the value of green retrofits. A deep energy retrofit has been an essential part of an extensive renovation that has helped restore this iconic building to Class A status and attract larger tenants. The building is saving tons of energy, and even more importantly the example set by the Malkins has convinced other building owners that deep energy retrofits on older buildings makes economic sense.
Surely we can cut the building management a break on the relatively more expenditure of energy involved in lighting the top of the building to celebrate holidays. But seeing it swathed in green for Earth Day and having my ears assaulted by over-amped music at the Earth Day celebration at Grand Central Station makes me feel that it would be more ecologically responsible to use a bit less electricity while promoting environmental stewardship.
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
A colleague recently sent me the link below that contains an interview with Donald Trump. Apparently, after "embracing" green design (to meet the requirements of municipalities in which he builds and/or to take advantage of tax breaks) he has decided to come out swinging. I won't address the claim he made in this interview that global warming is a myth. But he also said that green buildings are uncomfortable and unhealthy, referencing a friend of his "a big guy in environmental" who regrets moving into a green building because his office is always too hot or too cold and the poor lighting is causing him to lose his eyesight.
As you know, Trump tends to put his own spin on things, and often backs up what he says with "my friend, a big ---- guy." But "green" can also mean different things to different people. For instance, the primary focus of the EnergyStar Building standard is saving energy, although of course the HVAC systems have to meet minimum requirements for health and safety. So an EnergyStar building might not be as comfortable as a LEED building or a Class A building in which no attention is paid to energy consumption.
Occupant health and comfort are two aspects of green design upon which I am particularly focused, and LEED standards pay careful attention to that. What I personally like most about LEED buildings is how they smell --- or don't --- even during construction. Thermal comfort, monitoring and control as well as thoughtful lighting design are all aspects of LEED buildings.
But for purpose of discussion, let's assume that Trump has a friend who actually moved into a LEED building and is unhappy about it.
Thermal comfort is one of the hardest things to maintain in any building. Periodic retro-commissioning is invaluable for maintaining occupant comfort as well as ensuring continued energy savings. It's also possible that whoever handled the friend's tenant build-out did not pay enough attention to the position of HVAC registers and blocked the path of air during drywall construction, that a contractor working on his space disconnected or blocked something, or that another tenant has somehow affected the air supply to his space.
We could dismiss the allegation about the loss of eyesight as just plain silly, since most people need reading glasses as they get older. But since I have a fair amount of expertise in ergonomic design for computer users, and since people do sometimes feel that greener offices are not bright enough, I'd like to put in my two cents on that issue. For anyone working on computer screens, "less is more." Proper lighting design for the modern office, energy considerations aside, would include relative low levels of ambient light to avoid glare on computer screens supplemented by task lighting for reading hard-copy. Computer screens should be positioned perpendicular to, rather than parallel to, windows and/or windows shades should be used to reduce glare. Sometimes "big guys" of a certain age prefer reading hard copy to using computers, and often "big guys" sit with their backs to a window that shows off a very expensive view and don't have a return on their desks for computer use. So it's possible that lighting that is healthier and more comfortable for most people in an office can be displeasing to a CEO. But that can be easily remedied by plugging a torchiere into a wall outlet.
The recommended light levels traditionally used in the construction of U.S. buildings were developed to facilitate reading hard copy, because personal computers had not yet been invented. And I believe that the manufacturers of light bulbs were heavily involved in determining recommended light levels.
Anyone interested in seeing the interview with Donald Trump upon which this post is based can do so at: Business Insider Article
Sunday, February 19, 2012
Your choice of appliances can significantly impact your environmental footprint. For example front-loading clothes washers save quite a bit of water and energy, and because they use much less detergent they can reduce the harmful impact of laundry wastewater on ecosystems.
The entries for the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon combined sophisticated cutting-edge technologies with simple, practical measures to achieve minimal environmental impact. While other aspects of the design and construction of the houses varied widely, every entrant used a front-loading washing machine in order to save energy and water. And a young man from Purdue University proudly showed the jurors a "husband-proof washing machine" that automatially dispensed the right amount of water and detergent based upon the size each load of wash.
Front-loading washing machines are normally more expensive than top-loading models, but they are much easier on both your clothes and the environment. Because front-loading washing machines have no agitators, you can do more laundry in a single load and avoid twisting your clothes. Top-loading washing machines waste water by filling up the tub twice, once during the wash cycle and again during the rinse cycle. Front-loading machines use sophisticated wash systems to flip or spin clothes through a stream of water and rinse clothes with repeated high-pressure spraying instead of soaking them in a full tub of water. Many of them have sophisticated sensors to monitor both water levels and temperatures.
Front-loading machines can save additional energy by reducing drying time. Their spin mechanisms typically spin twice as fast as a top-loader canm so there's less water left in the laundry at the end of a drying cycle. The "husband-proof" washing machine in Purdue University's Solar Decathlon house even has a special cycle for small loads that can eliminate the need to use a clothes dryer.
Most clothes dryers use quite a bit of energy. If you are purchasing a new dryer, consider one with a moisture sensor in the drum that will automatically stop the drying cycle when the laundry is dry. And if you're not replacing your dryer, simple steps like only drying full loads and keeping the lint trap clean can still save energy.
The Consortium for Energy Efficiency(CEE), a not-for-profit consotium whose members include many utility companies, rates washing machines from Tier I to Tier III based upon a combination of energy efficiency and water usage. The chart on CEE's web site is updated monthly.
Thursday, February 16, 2012
I just received yet another email for a "green" product that does much more harm than good. Those of us who practice sustainable design share a concern with what we call "greenwashing." But the only way to make this particular product truly green would be with a heavy coat of paint.
The company recycles billboards to make products for interiors --- floor coverings, furniture, and even placemats. But their web site proudly points out that the products are very durable because the billboards they use are vinyl.
Vinyl products are very, very bad for people's health. And it's not just because the manufacture of vinyl releases carcinogens into our water and air. Products made with vinyl can be harmful to your reproductive health and your endocrine system. And the harmful substances that continue to release into the air from vinyl products also can affect even your unborn children.