Buildings Major Source Of Greenhouse Gases, Expert Says

Architects Told They Are Key In Battle To Prevent Global Warming

Sunday, October 8, 2006 - by Judy Frank

The biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption in this nation and around the world is the buildings in which we live and work – not gas guzzling SUVs and other widely recognized energy consumers that we hear so much about – an internationally recognized architect and authority on preventing global warming said here this weekend.

Consequently, it is architects who hold the key to preventing global warming, Edward Mazria told attendees at the Southeast regional meeting of the American Institute of Architects.

“The architecture and design profession is the only profession that can slow this down,” he said. “Architects have been complaining that they’re losing status . . . Well, that has changed.
Now we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change the world.”

Each year in the United States, about 5 billion square feet of new construction and 5 billion square feet of renovation occurs, he said. Fueling the operations of these structures, coupled with the resources and materials necessary to build them, adds up to tremendous amounts of consumed fossil fuels.

Consequently, if architects involved in those construction and renovation projects incorporated reduced energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions into their plans, the amount of energy saved would be enormous, the architect said.

Further, they would demonstrate that it is feasible to cut emissions without sacrificing economic growth.

AIA-Tennessee, which is joining with the Volunteer Legacy Coalition (VLC) to work toward reduced emissions of greenhouse gases caused by the built environment, hosted Mr. Mazria’s appearance in Chattanooga.

“Tennessee’s architects . . . believe that the federal government will soon mandate a cap on the carbon emissions that contribute to global warming,” said Connie Wallace, AIA-Tennessee’s executive director. “But we can’t wait on directives from Washington. As design professionals, we embrace our pivotal role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions through green design strategies, and we’re committed to bringing those strategies into mainstream public application sooner rather than later.”

Architects here are not alone in applauding Mr. Mazria’s recommendations for reducing greenhouse emissions. In May, the U.S. Conference of Mayors unanimously adopted his “2030 Challenge,” which calls for an immediate 50-percent reduction in fossil fuel energy consumption in new and renovated buildings.

Within 25 years, proponents of Mazria’s 2030 Challenge want to completely eliminate the use of fossil fuels – oil, natural gas and coal – to heat, cool, light and/or build all new structures.

“If we don’t meet the greenhouse gas reduction targets that the scientific community has put forward in order for the world to avoid dangerous climate change - there will be catastrophic climate change,” Mayor Michael Guido of Dearborn, Mich., the president of the U.S. Mayors, said at the time.

Mr. Mazria also has issued a Professional Schools Challenge 2010, which asks that all student-architect design assignments incorporate this sentence: “Beginning in 2007, all projects (will) be designed to engage the environment in a way that dramatically reduces or eliminates the need for fossil fuels.”

“We’re asking them to save the planet by adding a sentence,” he told the architects assembled in Chattanooga. “It’s absurd how simple this is.”

According to Mr. Mazria, buildings and their construction account for nearly half of all the greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumed annually in the United States. Globally, the percentage is even higher.

Taking gas guzzlers off the road and replacing them with hybrids would have only a minimal effect on energy use and global warming, he said. Designing and constructing buildings that use less energy would have a far greater effect.

That’s because we drive our vehicles only about 12 years before they are replaced by more efficient vehicles, he said. Buildings, on the other hand, have lifespans of at least 50 to 100 years.

Architects already know that buildings can be designed to require less than half the energy of today's average U.S. building, he said.

This is achieved – at no additional cost – through strategies such as proper siting, improved design, selection of building materials and incorporating natural heating, cooling and ventilation.

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