The push for more sustainable buildings of all types has gained considerable momentum in recent years, led in part by many of the industry experts present at the ASME’s recent Integrated/Sustainable Building Equipment & Systems Open Research Forum. From the micro (office buildings, private dwellings) to the macro (entire municipalities such as Holland, MI), the message was clear that the time for discussion and debate is wrapping up and the time for action to promote the spread of sustainable building in the form of government incentives and tax breaks has begun.
Moderated by Kimball Hart, president of Middleburg, Virginia-based Hart, McMurphy, and Parks, a law firm that works with builders and municipalities alike, the April 24, 2013 event, held in Washington, DC, was divided into three “Focus Areas.” The first discussed energy efficiency technologies and looked at both the progress made and difficulties encountered in this field. Stella Oggianu, a project leader with United Technologies, Hartford, CT, was open about the efficiency problems of many renewable technologies and stressed the need to make projects attractive to builders from a cost-effectiveness standpoint. She also interestingly pointed out that the cost of U.S. energy is relatively low when compared to other areas of the globe, preventing many from feeling “the pain” of high costs. Others, such as ASME’s Director of Research, Michael Tinkelman, stressed the need for a compendia of success stories to promote to builders and municipalities because, as he pointed out, “No one wants to be first.”
Built entirely from recycled materials, the Sonoma State University Recreation Center has become one of the models for sustainability. Image: Wikimedia Commons.
Focus Area II centered around the need to look at projects holistically and see the big picture; how all components in a system can be integrated. This concept should even be taken a step further according to Prof. Moncef Krarti of the University of Colorado, Boulder, who said “It’s very important to integrate the building with the environment itself.” Integrated systems like those discussed at this workshop require integrated teams with engineers from multiple disciplines. Mechanical engineers, structural engineers, even the architect should be involved from inception and should participate in all the steps along the way if possible, to achieve the optimum result.
In the final Focus Area, the discussion turned to the most ambitious and aggressive goals of the sustainable movement, that of city-scale sustainability strategies, in which an entire municipality or neighborhood within that municipality is transformed into an integrated, green environment. The concept of the mega-urban area or mega-city was introduced by Prof. Jorge Gonzalez, City College of New York, who asserted that cities are subsuming more and more of the area surrounding them, to the point where they will connect in the near future, for example, in the Philadelphia/New York/Boston region. New, large-scale strategies will be needed to meet the energy needs of such areas, and traditional thinking on how to deliver energy on such a scale may not be adequate.
In the end, the experts present at the workshop plan to produce a concept paper/action plan highlighting three to four relevant challenges, along with what they deem to be the appropriate solutions; a way forward and a way to take positive action to address these challenges rather than simply identifying them and moving on.
Only time will tell if the goals of the workshop and the experts who participated are realized, but with the energy and drive present at this meeting of high-level experts, any shortcomings will not be due to a lack of will or resolve.
Integrated systems like those discussed at this workshop require integrated teams with engineers from multiple disciplines.