Monday, January 31, 2011

January 31 What is a Sustainable Building?

Portland is a leader in LEED building. We export those skills worldwide. But LEED itself is just one of a set of measures of good that will unfold over time. One of those unfolding measures will be lifecycle resource and energy accounting. For instance, a solar cell requires a large amount of energy to refine the silicon from the silicon aluminum oxides found in rock. One estimate is that a solar cell takes 5 years of operation to recover its energy cost of materials. It's the same to go from ore to metal. Then the voided energy from recycling the solar cells in 20 years into new ones should be taken into account. I'm in the cleantech field and had an opportunity to ask a Department of Energy research director about the best thinking on this very question. The answer, no serious work is done yet.

This idea first came on my radar from articles on a planned Seattle light rail system. It was designed Seattle-style to be the most costly, complex and risky solution to the problem at hand. The out of balance element was a plan to drill a route for the rail under Capitol Hill. Calculations showed that the energy of tunneling, concrete and steel would never pay itself back in energy saving. Travel anywhere in the extent of the Greco-Roman empire and you will see hand carved stone blocks reused from ancient building to less ancient building, demonstrating conservation of material and labor by reuse.

In buildings, a qualitative thought process has started, backed by some back of the envelope calculations. That's the thesis of the film tonight: The Greenest Building. The film explores the idea that reusing old buildings is more energy efficient than creating them entirely from new materials. This meshes well with the ideas in an early book How Buildings Learn.

The Greenest Building traces 5 green reuse building projects. Its focus is the triple bottom line: economic, social and ecological. It's perfect that the film has its world premiere in the Gerding Theater in a LEED certified rejuvenation of an historic armory. The film travels to other cities and is scheduled for PBS broadcast in the future.

You can find out more about the film at their website. It shows in the Gerding Theater 128 NW 11th 6:30PM Advance tickets at $9.15