thinking about energy, water, and efficient land use

Yesterday, the Lower Cape Fear Stewardship Development Coalition held it’s annual awards ceremony, and there were 5 winners – not bad for the struggling economy in our region, but only one of these projects was privately funded.  It’s reassuring to know that publicly-funded projects take sustainability seriously, although we wish the private sector (lenders…) would follow suit.    The US Green Building Council just released it’s 2011 list of the top-ten states having the greatest number of commercial and institutional LEED-certified buildings per capita – and in order, they are… District of Columbia, Colorado, Illinois, Virginia, Washington, Maryland, Massachussetts, Texas, California, New York, and Minnesota.  D.C. substantially outpaces the other top finishers, with 31.5 SF of LEED-certified space per person vs. Colorado, the next-highest finisher at 2.74 SF per person!

The projects recognized at yesterday’s awards ceremony were notable in particular for their reduced energy consumption – a part of the sustainability picture that has historically (7 years) received less attention as part of the Lower Cape Fear Stewardship Awards Program.  Roya Stanley, the Director of Policy and Technical Assistance at the US Department of Energy, gave the awards program audience an uplifting picture of the direction and momentum of energy-conservation initiatives across the country, and commended the Cape Fear region for it’s efforts. US Representative Mike McIntyre also gave the region a pat on the back, and kept his comments brief and specific to energy. What was missing, however, was a discussion of the connection between energy consumption and efficient land/natural resource use – the primary focus (in our minds, at least!) of the Lower Cape Fear Stewardship Awards program.  Here’s a link to the program…

PenderWatch & Conservancy‘s   annual meeting also took place yesterday, and featured Bill Holman, current Director of State Policy at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.  His presentation, “The Future of Water in North Carolina: Strategies for Sustaining Clean and Abundant Water” was tailored specifically for the lower Cape Fear area, and featured some terrifying statistics regarding drought, population growth, and water consumption – for domestic/agricultural use as well as ‘fracking.’   He described the lack of connections in NC water policy – currently, ground water and surface water are managed as separate resources.  Another slide listed several proposed ‘large water withdrawal’ (each >5 million gallons per day!) projects in our region – 4 of the 5 withdrawals are requests to support mining/extraction projects.  (to create more impervious surfaces, and to power more polluting machinery/vehicles.)

Mr. Holman’s presentation was not all bad news…clearly, there are smart people in North Carolina (insert plug for Duke’s Nicholas Institute here!) thinking logically about how we use…and re-use/recycle our natural resources.  In his ending slides, he talks about new models for 21st century water utilities that consider a new diversity of sources (wastewater…) with sustainability at their core, in addition to public safety and economic concerns.  Here’s a link for further reading…

And if you are not familiar with the wonderful work of PenderWatch, check out their website and activities…

Clearly, yesterday was a day for reflection. 

Here at B+O, we make jokes about who is wearing the ‘Righteous Indignation Cape’ – recently, we have been sharing it, and it is worn out!  Architects and  landscape architects (those who are still nominally employed…) share a unique responsibility here – like policy-makers, we help shape land use and construction by the surfaces we disturb and  ‘harden.’  Every decision we make creates demands and impacts on natural resources.

We need to be paying attention, and applying our knowledge – and we cannot be afraid of challenging rules when they are out-dated or counter-intuitive.  (… the ‘health, safety, and public welfare’ that we are mandated to consider as essential to our registration go far beyond the set of construction documents and ribbon-cutting ceremony.)

Details are important, but we think the connections of these details are even more important.  The biggest failing of current environmental policy is the narrow and immediate focus on resource harvest, with minimal consideration to cause and effect. In today’s political climate, some presumptive leaders would like to abolish all rules, and this instant gratification approach would lead to further wasteful, damaging, and foreshortened use of natural resources. In our human-dominated world, every action we take has it’s effects in nature – and we need to remind ourselves that it is nature, and more specifically, the land (and water, and air…) we inhabit,  that sustains us.


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