Posted by Jeff Lucas
When Washington University in St. Louis committed to designing and building their Tyson Research Center to the most exacting green building standards, those of the International Living Building Institute, they encountered an unusual problem. It wasn't energy usage. The architects and engineers didn't have a problem meeting the requirement of zero net energy use. It wasn't water independence. State of the art composting toilets and other features were designed to handle that. It wasn't even a tight budget (let's face it, this is Washington University, they are going to be able to do it right). The problem was . . . we don't make stuff anymore.
Version 2.0 of the the Living Building Challenge standards has seven focus areas or "petals" (love it). These include: Site, Water, Energy, Health, Materials, Equity, and Beauty. When the folks at WU got to the Materials section they were faced with the interplay of Imperatives 12 – Embodied Carbon Footprint and 14 – Appropriate Sourcing. The first requires "The project must account for the total footprint of embodied carbon (tCO2e) from its construction" (a portion of which would be 'no shipping materials half way around the world'). The second requires "The project must incorporate place-based solutions and contribute to the expansion of a regional economy rooted in sustainable practices, products and services", another incentive to buy locally manufactured materials and fixtures. This is where the problem arose. When the team went to source ceiling fans, they found that the last one manufactured in the U.S. rolled off the line over a year ago. Light bulbs haven't been made in this country for some time.
This team solved the problem by building their own from salvaged materials, and in fact, enjoyed the challenge of creating things of both function and beauty from reclaimed materials (You can here an interview with them on NPR's Science Friday here). What, however, about the rest of us? Might the exploding interest in meeting the most rigorous of green standards be an incentive to restart local or regional manufacturing? Might it also prompt new approaches to "How do you consider the well-being of environmental, social, and economic systems to which your organization does or may contribute?" [Baldrige Criteria requirement 1.2c(1)]