Cooling our Concrete Cities

By Mary Kelley Hoppe

Reducing our Carbon Footprint

As debate shifts from whether global warming is real to how to cut heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions, people are quick to point a finger at the usual suspects: industrial smokestacks and gas-guzzling SUVs. But these sources alone, while significant, pale in comparison to the carbon footprint of buildings, which account for nearly 39%* of CO2 emissions in the U.S. – more than either the transportation or industrial sectors. Buildings and their construction consume 70% of the electricity generated in the U.S.

Turning down the global thermostat will require changes in the way buildings and developments are designed, constructed and operated. While Florida has lagged behind the national green building curve, the tide is turning. Water supply woes, energy costs and environmental concerns are driving green building into the mainstream. Add to that the bold agenda set forth this summer by Governor Crist – whose July Climate Change Summit concluded with executive orders mandating cuts in greenhouse gas emissions that are among the most ambitious of the 20 states that have adopted legal limits on global warming pollution – and the shift from debate to response becomes all the more evident. How can cities cool their concrete urban cores? Bay Soundings explores the options and opportunities inside this special section.

The Campaign Heats Up

July 2007
Florida Governor Charlie Crist convenes the Florida Climate Change Summit in Miami, July 12-13, to explore opportunities for advancing the global climate change agenda and adopting specific action plans. “I am persuaded that global climate change is one of the most important issues that we will face this century,” said Crist. “With almost 1,200 miles of coastline and the majority of our citizens living near that coastline, Florida is more vulnerable to rising ocean levels and violent weather than any other state.” Crist capped the conference by signing a series of executive orders outlining steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Florida to 2000 levels by 2017 and by 80% of 1990 levels by 2050, while implementing policy changes that will boost clean energy development. State agencies are directed to adopt LEED® green building standards for all new buildings, and pursue similar standards for existing buildings where economically feasible.

Summer 2006
The U.S. Conference of Mayors unanimously approves a resolution calling for the energy reduction of all new and renovated buildings to half the national average for that building type, with increased reductions of 10% every five years so that all buildings designed by the year 2030 will be carbon neutral. Santa Fe, NM becomes the nation’s first city, and Sarasota, FL, the first county, to adopt The 2030 Challenge.

January 2006
The non-partisan advocacy group Architecture 2030 issues The 2030 Challenge, a global initiative calling for all new buildings and major renovations to reduce their fossil-fuel GHG-emitting consumption by 50% by 2010, and that all new buildings be ‘carbon neutral’ by 2030, meaning that they will use no fossil fuel energy.

The U.S. Green Building Council releases its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) Green Building Rating System. Since then, LEED has become the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of high-performance buildings. Developers achieve certification by shooting for points in five key categories: site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality. The average LEED-certified building uses 32% less electricity.

* According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, buildings generate 38.7% of Co2 emissions [Emissions of Greenhouse Gases in the U.S. 2005]
Originally published Fall 2007 as part of our Climate Change & Florida’s Future: Feeling the heat series.

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