Archive for March, 2010

March 24, 2010

A Historic Moment | Social Sustainability and Health Care

by Scott Lewis
Brightworks CEO

.Sustainability is meaningless without social justice.

Triple Bottom Line, The Natural Step, even the Bruntland Commission definition all explicitly or implicitly require a hard look at how we treat our fellow human passengers on this verdant, blue spaceship called Earth.  More explicitly, we have looked at the new emerging practice called “Social Sustainability.”

But regardless of definition, the concept remains the same: sustainability is meaningless without social justice.  And today, social justice, and sustainability, took a transformational leap forward.  For the first time in our nation’s history, we can now shed the dubious distinction of being the only industrialized country that does not guarantee health care to its entire populous.

To those who argue that this move will ‘bankrupt our economy,’ I suppose the best answer is that of the 12 countries that outrank the US on the Human Development Index, all have universal health care (and none has gone bankrupt yet); the same is true for the 10 counties ahead of the US on the GDP Per Capita index.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will guarantee health care coverage for 32 million Americans that currently cannot afford health insurance.  32 million Americans.

Sustainability is meaningless without social justice.  And today, social justice, and sustainability, took a transformational leap forward.

The Signing

Marcelas Owens, 11, looks on as President Obama signs healthcare legislation. Marcelas' mother died after losing her insurance. (White House photo)

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Brightworks’ mission is to foster the emergence of a sustainable, equitable society.

March 15, 2010

Biomimicry Blog : Erin’s Story

That's Erin!by Erin Leitch
Brightworks Sustainability Advisor

+ First generation Biomimicry Certificate candidate

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I applied for the 2 Year Biomimicry Certificate program knowing I would be a guinea pig and without having expectations about what I would get at the end of that two years but mostly looking forward to the experience and the people.  With the program coming to a close of April 10th, I realize I could never have imagined the value that it has brought to both my professional and personal outlooks.  Actually, ‘outlook’ is a serious understatement.  The program has deeply impacted both the way I conduct myself and the work that I do.

Brightworks CEO Scott Lewis wanders across the rainforest floor.

Humidity changes exoskeleton color. The exoskeleton of the Hercules beetle changes from green to black with increasing humidity using thin film interference by reversible modification of layer thickness. (photo: asknature.org)

Biomimicry completely shifts the designer’s approach to sustainable design from being often times an obligatory chore on top of the true design intention to a broadened solution space where innovation and great design go hand in hand with resilience.  This mindset shift happened to me when I first learned about biomimicry and now I have the privilege of witnessing that shift happening in the people with whom I am now working and speaking.I have already begun integrating biomimicry into the work I do at Brightworks, along with Nicole Isle, another Brightworker that attended one of the Biomimicry Institute’s week long Biologist at the Design Table (BaDT) workshops.  Nicole and I have presented the biomimicry approach and its application to many architecture and planning firms in Portland and Seattle which has resulted in a tremendous amount of interest and inspiration about the possibility of emulating the genius found in natural systems and strategies.  We have also been invited to speak at conferences and events.  We are initiating a Pacific Northwest “Biomimicry Swarm” for emerging biomimics, and offer a full-day biomimicry workshop for designers, engineers, planners, and other built environment professionals that want to spend some time working with the biomimicry process and understanding the means by which we can distill challenges to functions and finding those functions in nature.

Through biomimicry, I have found an overwhelming ‘readiness’ in the people that we are talking with for rediscovering humanity’s intrinsic connection to the natural world – for knocking down the illusion of separateness from it – and a similar readiness for incorporating that value into the work we all do.

It is truly a thrill to be a resource to the design community for bridging the gap between biology and the built environment.

[Erin will complete the Biomimicry Institute’s inaugural 2–year certificate program this spring. She, along with 14 other professionals from design, biology, business and engineering backgrounds, will become one of the world’s first Certified Biomimicry Professionals.  This posting is the first in a series of commentaries Erin will be authoring at our Blog on the subject of Biomimicry. — SL]

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March 11, 2010

Forest Rant

A Call To Action

The non-profit US Green Building Council, which created and administers the industry standard green building certification system called LEED, is poised to decide whether to weaken a very important forest protection provision within the LEED standard.

Love Forests

The provision is within what is called the “Certified Wood” credit of LEED, and pertains to what 3rd party certification standards are accepted for the LEED Certified Wood point.

Currently, only the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standard is considered acceptable within LEED.  Under intense pressure from members of the forestry industry who do not follow the strict FSC requirements, USGBC is considering allowing competing standards to be accepted along with FSC.

But NRDC, one of the most highly-respected national conservation groups, says “The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) runs the only credible forest certification program.”  (see source here)

Don’t let this happen!  Make your voice be heard.

For more background on the issue, see:

The US FSC web site, here.

Yale did a comparison of forestry certification standards, which supports FSC as the only meaningful certification standard,  here.

Go To USGBC’s Web Site, and Comment Now!

You don’t have to be a USGBC member to comment against the proposed change to the Certified Wood standard.  But the deadline to comment is this coming Sunday, March 14th.  COMMENT, NOW,  Here.

If you are a USGBC member, you can opt in to the consensus body by Wednesday March 24th to be eligible to vote on the final proposed credit revision, here.

In case your browser doesn’t support embedded links, the URLs above are:

FSC:
http://www.fscus.org/green_building/usgbc_failings_third_comment_leed.php

NRDC:
http://www.nrdc.org/land/forests/qcert.asp

Yale:
http://yale.edu/forestcertification/ForCertContrMatrix.htm

USGBC:
Comment Now-
http://www.usgbc.org/LEED/LEEDDrafts/RatingSystemVersions.aspx?CMSPageID=1458

Opt In to the Consensus Body –
https://www.usgbc.org/Login.aspx?REFERRER=/DisplayPage.aspx%3fCMSPageID%3d2070

— Scott Lewis

Brightworks CEO

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March 3, 2010

Energy Rant

That's Scottby Scott Lewis

Brightworks CEO

Energy is one of my secret fascinations.  I suppose it’s not such a secret any more (now that you’re reading this…).

One of my Big Three environmental issues (along with Toxic Pollution and Biodiversity), our reliance of fossil fuel energy is the driver behind the climate crisis, a lot of the toxic pollution and biodiversity issues, and so full of complexity and intrigue that it fascinates and perplexes me to no end.

The Demand

Industrial society uses lots of concentrated – and for transportation, portable – energy, to run.

We need 24/7 base load.

We need peak load.

We need we need we need.

And most of our current energy modalities are destroying the planet, or at least, the planet’s ability to sustain the diversity of life and the human quality of life we aspire to preserve (and bring to more people).

World Energy Demand

Global Energy Use: World Marketed Energy Consumption, 1980-2030 (Source: US Energy Information Administration (EIA))

The Supply

The irony.  There is so much energy “out there,” if we were smart and strategic, we wouldn’t know what to do with all the excess. [1]

The biopshere is brimming with massive energy flows, including:

  • direct solar,
  • indirect solar (which includes wind, appropriate – non-fossil fuel based, non-food crop displacing – biofuel, and wave),
  • tidal (which is moon, whereas wave is wind is solar),
  • geothermal.

It’s all about priorities, design intent, political corruption (much of it legal in the form of campaign finance and ‘revolving door’ lobbying, just made worse by the US Supreme Court).

If we *really* wanted to, we could be on 100 percent renewables, globally, in a decade or two, easily.  Easily meaning the technology exists – today – assuming the will were aligned, not meaning we’ll ever get the will aligned.

Yes, it would be costly.  But the Greenland ice sheet sliding into the North Atlantic will be more costly. AND, it would also help solve major issues of pollution, habitat destruction and the political and economic challenges associated with our dependency on imported fossil fuels.

It really is a matter of choice, urgency, and priorities.

Total Surface Area Required to Fuel the World With Solar (source: http://www.landartgenerator.org/blagi/archives/127)

The Challenge : Economics 101

Price is a huge driver of human behavior.  Gasoline in the US currently costs in the range of $3/gallon.  That price doesn’t include environmental externalities (estimated at $120 billion in 2005 alone) nor the cost of keeping our troops in Saudi Arabia, much less the Iraq war or all the other subsidies hidden from view. Therefore, it does not reflect the REAL COST, to society, of its manufacture, distribution and use.

Keep price signals artificially low, you get too much of any activity: This is Economics 101 (low price, more activity; high price, less activity).  With gas at $9/gallon, in Norway you don’t see a lot of Hummers.  Between conservation [2] – still the cheapest energy source by far (now getting rebranded “energy efficiency,” which some marketing guys must have figured out raises VC money faster than conservation) – and all that free sunlight hitting the planet’s surface every day, we are flush with opportunity.  Yes, storage and portability is a challenge.  Dumb grid is a challenge.  But compared to climate change, these challenges pale.  It’s not about possibility, it’s about political will.

So don’t let anyone tell you it’s about cost or technological barriers.

Two great and inspiring articles:

A path to 100 percent renewables using Wind, Water and Solar (WWS) by 2030 (from Scientific American, no less).

—  The potential addition to the WWS equation by what the author, a retired DuPont scientist, refers to as clean biofuels – not made from corn or switchgrass (bad), but from things like algae grown on the surface of the sea, and a plant that literally “grows gasoline.”

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NOTES

1.The total solar energy absorbed by Earth’s atmosphere, oceans and land masses is approximately 3,850,000 exajoules (EJ) per year. In 2002, this was more energy in one hour than the world used in one year.

2. “studies show a median technical potential of 33% for electricity and 40% for gas, and median economic potentials for electricity and gas of 20% and 22% respectively.” ACEEE (2004) See source (AEEE article) here.

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