Originally published in Interiors & Sources

09/05/2006

A Sum of the Parts, A Greater Whole

By Jim Widmer

 

Several things of note happened this past month that, taken individually, were significant and important. But, flying back from an end-of-month New York trip, I was struck by how - like a lot of things in life - the sum contribution of the individual parts made such a greater whole.

The first event was a sad one, the passing of P. Ole Fanger, one of the world's leading experts on the effects of the indoor environment on human comfort, health, and productivity. He was respected and loved in many communities around the world for both his scholarship and caring friendship.

Fanger had received 75 scientific awards in 28 countries, including 12 honorary doctorates, 18 medals, and honorary memberships in 16 professional societies. In 2006, he was named a university professor at Syracuse University (the institution’s highest academic rank). He was also a senior professor at the International Centre for Indoor Environment and Energy at the Technical University of Denmark, linking his work there to his work at the Syracuse Center of Excellence in Environmental and Energy Systems. 

His models - which are used worldwide - allow for the prediction of the impact of the indoor environment on human comfort, health, and productivity. His pioneering work in this area provided the scientific foundation of research and discovery in human thermal comfort and serves as the basis for most international standards in this field.

Fanger and his team were the first to document that poor indoor air quality in homes increases risks for developing asthma and allergies in children, and that mediocre indoor air quality in offices decreases productivity. Fanger’s field studies also showed that pollution from building materials, electronic devices, and HVAC systems is often a cause of poor indoor air quality.

A few years ago, Fanger noted that The New York Times asked its readers to name the most important technical innovation of the 20th century. The top answer was air-conditioning, which was invented in Central New York by engineer Willis Carrier.

He said, “What can we learn from Willis Carrier? He had a vision. He knew that he was aiming at developing a technology that would have an enormous impact on human quality of life and on the economic growth of nations. He worked consistently to make his vision and dream come true. At an early stage, he combined his engineering skills with partners who had business skills so that he could found the Carrier Corp., which still today is the world’s leading air-conditioning company. A vision is certainly important for all of us so we know where we are heading.”

That comment had special meaning to me. I, too, am a believer in the fact that it’s the practical co-joining of science, technology, business, and government which ultimately contributes to advancement as a society and to quality of life.

Now, take that point of view and combine it with the second thing that happened this month: The first-ever Alliance to Save Energy lifetime achievement award was given to Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy's (EERE) Mark Ginsberg for his tremendous contribution to energy efficiency over the course of his career.

Ginsberg, who has been the state energy director in Arizona, director of the Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP), and manager of EERE’s Buildings Technologies Program, currently serves as senior executive board member for the EERE Board of Directors. Ginsberg and the board assist in directing EERE policy, strategies, and budgets and serve as “ambassadors” for EERE.

As a senior executive advisor to the assistant secretary, his portfolio includes energy efficiency, renewable energy, and climate-change technologies.

I can’t think of anyone who deserves the award more. Mark has devoted his life and his career to sustainability - from his time as the director of FEMP to his recent leadership on Gulf Coast reconstruction efforts. His early support of the council was crucial to the development of LEED, and proves once again that it takes special and energetic people contributing their special expertise to a larger cause that moves us all forward.

Mark has been a personal and professional inspiration to me, and I'm sure to many of you, so please join me in congratulating him on this wonderful recognition.

Mark and Ole are two individuals. Their contributions, now and forever, will be part of the foundation on which the green-building movement stands. But, what can happen when you put a lot of people with the same kind of smarts, energy, and commitment together?

I was privileged to get a glimpse of that at the second annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative. 

More than 1,000 visionary leaders met in New York to continue their efforts to find exciting new ways to confront challenges posed by rising energy costs, climate change, and environmental stress. Many companies and communities are cutting costs with energy-efficiency programs. Municipal leaders are promoting better-designed cities. Investors and entrepreneurs are racing toward wind and solar energy, alternative fuels, and plug-in hybrid engines.

In broad outline, the path is clear: We need to use less energy and find cleaner sources. We need to break down barriers - including lack of information - that slow the adoption of clean energy technologies. We need sufficient funding to bring down costs for clean technologies and policies that promote their adoption.

So, for the second year in a row, the USGBC and its energetic and prestigious members came to the table with a commitment to do its part. This year, the USGBC, with support from Newland Communities, committed to launch the first program in a comprehensive, year-long campaign to educate consumers about the benefits of green homes.

It also reported on last year’s commitment, which was a series of green-building conferences promoting sustainable design and construction in education.

Did you know that education is the largest sector of non-residential buildings in the United States? More than 70 million students and another 9 million faculty and staff show up every day in K-12 and higher-education classrooms.   

K-12 school districts spend $6 billion each year on energy alone. These costs could be cut by a full 25 percent through green building - a savings that could fund up to 30,000 new K-12 teachers or 40 million new textbooks.

And, reducing energy use is but one of the benefits of green buildings. Just as schools are beginning to eliminate junk food and encourage more healthful lunches, they are ridding their environments of toxic paint and providing more natural lighting and better indoor air quality. Why? Because students in green buildings have, on average, 20-percent higher test scores. They also have fewer sick days (so do the teachers).

So, last year, the USGBC, together with New York City-based Turner Construction Co. and Haverford, PA-based Haverford College, committed to intensify its efforts to increase the number of green schools.

More than 900 executives with a stake in school construction attended three symposiums put on through the partnership commitment, which have driven an exponential growth in inquiries about how to build green schools. In fact, more than 200 schools - essentially one school per day - have registered their intent to use the LEED Green Building Rating System to build green.

The USGBC intends to continue its efforts here, taking the message to school boards and PTAs, Board of Regents and higher-education student bodies, all who have significant influence on these decisions. And, we’ll arm them with LEED for Schools Reference guides, which will be available this year.

Green schools matter everywhere, but no more so than in New Orleans, where most of the 115 public schools still remain closed. Two weeks ago, the USGBC issued the third of four reports on New Orleans and Gulf Coast restorative planning and reconstruction, laying out a blueprint for how to rebuild these schools green. And, as a result of its efforts, two schools have already registered their intent to go for LEED Silver. 

So, here we come full circle. An individual who pioneered our understanding about the critical importance of good indoor air quality. An individual whose leadership in the public sector was so generously shared with the USGBC and with its work on Gulf Coast rebuilding. And, an organization that draws together thousands of individuals and organizations who, when they come together, leverage the best energy and ideas they can serve up to advance scientific understanding, technological implementation, business acumen, and how to use that to increase quality of life and improve the planet.

It’s in the sum of all these parts, that we make a greater whole.

 

 
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