Thursday, February 28, 2008

Journal #13: LEED Innovation in Design

I found an article at that discusses some new problems with the LEED rating system in promoting innovation in green design. One of the staples of the LEED rating system is the ambiguous "innovation in design" which a building can earn up to four points on. When this point was asked about in class, someone said that "innovation in design" could be as simple making a furniture out of used soda cans. This specifically entails products that have zero net greenhouse gases. One example that I found was FLOR, which uses specialty materials for tiles and other flooring materials.

This article discusses how just recently, after pleads from LEED designers, released compiled information of the products that were created to achieve these points:
For years, designers have been pleading for a more accessible list of previously approved innovations. Why force everyone to reinvent the wheel? If the point of LEED is to help the industry as a whole innovate its way to greener buildings, shouldn't USGBC be doing all it can to share that information?
This is another example of USGBC being a little behind in evolving LEED and tailoring it to designers instead of creating a rigid system that does not promote the concept of green buildings as well as it could. LEED could allocate a standard amount of points for a building using an existing product that is considered in innovation in design, and could allocate more points if the chosen innovation in design is newly created or the first to be used in the new construction. Maybe further incentives could be awarded to designer (non-building) companies that want to promote their products as innovation in design products, furthering the concept of green design and stretching the reach of LEED.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Journal #12: Greening Pittsburgh, Incentives

I read the article put up on the course website about Pittsburgh's plan to enact environment friendly legislation. I saw a lot of things I had not thought about, such as hybrid government vehicles and rubber sidewalks, and am glad to see Pittsburgh at least aggressively talking about making changes. Also, the help of outside organizations such as the Sierra Club helping in preparing possible actions things could really start improving.

One thing I did not agree with Mr. Peduto on was his idea of creating incentives for people who make environmentally friendly decisions. I think it could anger a lot of people if there is suddenly special parking spots for people driving hybrids. Something like tax breaks sounds much more subtle and less likely to draw a ton of attention, but could be very effective nonetheless. What he talked about sounded more like handing someone who biked to work or carpooled a dollar everyday publicly. Although that would show that the city is very serious to a lot of people, I think it could end up making some of the more economically challenged city members resentful.

On a side note, I loved the idea of rubber sidewalks. I had never even thought of that. But it reminded me about how much I liked playgrounds with rubber decking when I was a kid because it really reduced the impact. Using different sidewalk material made me think about this blurb I found in the LEED Pro blog about compressed earth blocks. I wonder if something like this could be used as well.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

More Dr. Deez In Your Face

Here's a sweet story that completely changed my view of civil engineering forever.

We were at the "Welcome to the Department" sophmore dinner, and I was talking to Dr. Dzombak with Chris Watts. Initially, he was telling us how "we are really going to enjoy the program here" and that "there are so many opportunities for civils right now." Tell me something I don't know buddy. Somehow we got on the topic of the hurricane (Katrina) that, at the time, was 2 weeks away from hitting New Orleans.

Dr. Dzombak predicts that no one is even close to realizing how devastating this storm is going to be. Two weeks ahead! Dr. Doomsdaybak went on to discuss how inept we are at planning to not see the catastrophe that would absolutely occur at a harbor metropolis built below sea level. Then he called out "and just wait until L.A. is leveled by an earthquake." You heard it here first.

I think Chris left the conversation at this point, there were good free appetizers and Dr. Dzombak was on a mission to ruin appetites. And this is when he spat out by far my favorite quote I have ever heard since studying civil engineering:

"You know, people think of technology as televisions, cell phones, computers... What they need is Civil Engineering technology. That's technology that's saving lives."
And then this caterer who had been eavesdropping on our conversation accidentally spilled the punch everywhere. Just kidding. Maybe. But he definitely did drop his humanities major and rethought his entire life.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Journal #11: LEED rating problems

First of all, I'd like to note that since this class started, I now subscribe to the LEED Pro and Treehugger blogs. Both haven't given me much to think about yet in application to this class.

I thought after Tuesday's class that I'd write a little more about the problems we discussed in the LEED certification system. I wrote down a bunch of them as I thought about it, so I will just run through them quickly here:

  1. The point values are all equal, which allows designers to neglect some of the more challenging possible aspects of design for LEED certification.
  2. The current levels of certification have large ranges at the gold and platinum levels, and we can assuming that designers will probably only aim at the minimum for each of those levels as it could only cost more to achieve more.
  3. The certification system does not take into account design aspects that could be more crucial geographically. For example, in Arizona a design could get more points for water conservation and solar power use instead of alternative transportation.
  4. Mary mentioned that the county she lives in has started to make LEED certification for new buildings a requirement. I had never heard of this before and think that it could be a very valuable tool to have government support. This doesn't mean simply government LEED requirements as in Mary's example, but tax breaks and other incentives could be initiated.
  5. This past summer I worked at 5 different construction sites, most of them being commercial strip malls (walmart, lowes, etc..) and it was apparent that LEED was not on anyone's mind. The designs for these types of buildings are continual reused, and it could be incredibly beneficial for these types of companies to start requiring it in design.
Points 1-3 directly relate to the rating system, and 4-5 are just aspects that I think could greatly enhance the reach of the LEED system. I think that points 1 and 3 are the most important, and I would think that these should be the first changes in the system. When thinking about it, having an equal point spread seems very simplistic, and it's incredibly surprising that the U.S. Green Building Council hasn't done anything to change this yet. Hopefully we can see something like this implemented soon, and as LEED grows it could start to have smaller governing bodies in different regions who could control the local rating system.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Journal #10: Dr. Deez

I was struggling to find interesting things to read about, no thanks to crappy blogs, and decided to check out the Steinbrenner Institute at CMU's webpage. Eventually I found the faculty presentations, and was immediately drawn to finally reading some of Dr. Dzombak's work. This particular one was a report on his study of the Mississippi River and its relationship with the Clean Water Act.

Initially, it is made clear just how substantial the effects Mississippi River reach. The MR basin covers 50% of the continental U.S, mostly the eastern half of the country. The water discharge and quality are primarily controlled by man made levees and dams. The Upper MR is much bigger than the Lower MR, which results in different structures controlling the water flow.

The introduction of these man made structures has created a significant change in the distribution of sediment along the MR. Sediment has been forced into tributaries and areas where there was once little or none, and has dissipated from the main portion of the MR where it had once been greatest. The average nitrate content has steadily increased, due to agriculture (nonpoint) sources in the basin, that has resulted in a greater area of low dissolved oxygen.

The Clean Water Act requires regulations on water quality and is enforced by the EPA, but because the MR is so large, it is difficult for the EPA to coordinate this effort on a whole. The presentation criticizes the EPA as it has not acted to coordinate the different state regulatory efforts under one single entity.

It is clear that what one state may stress on regulating one contaminant, when overlooking another that becomes problematic at lower parts of the river, especially the Gulf of Mexico. The UMR and LMR both have different levels for interstate cooperation, but the LMR states have a much narrower focus and are not as well organized and able to regulate the entire region as a whole. The study stresses that LMR creates a better entity, and that the EPA helps this by coordinating both organizations then. This combined with better regulatory efforts by the EPA and work with the USDA in conservation methods are the key recommendations.

Being exposed to the efforts in regulating the entire MR as a whole makes me wonder how things are regulated on a smaller scale. The report cites the efforts in the Chesapeake Bay as something to model. It would be beneficial to see how the Ohio River is regulated and if it has similar coordination efforts.

Maybe Next Year Pittsburgh

I think this is what the Pirates' owner said after we lost in the NLCS in 1993... and then we went on our 15 year journey of blowing. But really, Pittsburgh didn't make the top 50 in Popular Science's "America's 50 Greenest Cities." Portland now has Greg Oden, and consistency across the board baby!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Journal #9: Power Mac G4 Assessment

I checked out one of the articles that I hadn't read posted on the course webpage which was an environmental assessment of the Power Max G4 released in 1999. This, I assumed, was the first G4 model since the model was manufactured between 1999-2004.

The reading first states that it is not a complete life cycle analysis, but a focus on the product's environmental impact in its use stage. I was a little leery of the study's neutrality, as I figured the authors were consultants hired by Apple. But they presented several areas where the product could be upgraded as challenges for the future, mostly concerning the hazardous materials used in the product.

There are three areas the reading cites as significant improvements in desktop computers at the time: energy consumption, materials, and repairability. Where the G4 showed the greatest achievements were in its energy consumption as its maximum power usage was 75% below the Energy Star requirements at the time. This is due to its ability to use only 5 watts of power during sleep mode. The G4 has a greatly reduced number of components in the model, as well as making many of the parts easily repairable. This saves in the amount of material used along with customers being able to repair the product more often than just having to scrap it.

This is a great example of what we talked about in class, along with one of my earlier posts, about choosing what to design for. In this case, we can assume that there was a heavy focus on reducing the energy use and materials waste in the design phase of the product, although there could be other aspects that were not discussed in the study. I went to apple's environment site to learn a little more about what they focus on now, and it appears that from the design to the end-of-life, environmental aspects are continually considered.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Journal #8: Democratic Candidates on Environmental Issues

I don't really pay that much attention to the election, which is definitely a bad thing. So other than gagging at the video of Hildog (Hillary) crying, and listening to Obama's way too long speeches that I don't have the attention span for, I decided to check out some of their recent environmental stances.

A friend had originally told me that both candidates had avoided the topic of global warming and the environment, and that Hillary had only discussed the issue when confronted with an inquiry in public. I searched google news for Obama and Clinton environmental articles, but you have to search for global warming in order to find anything related. I found an article from the Baltimore Sun on Obama's recent speech at the University of Maryland. Maryland is a state that is dramatically feeling the effects of sea levels rising as islands and lands are slowly disappearing.

Obama is focusing on reducing emissions from greenhouse gases, and a staple point of this is putting caps on industry emissions and requiring all vehicles to have a MPG of at least 40. This, he proclaims, will cut our dependency on foreign oil drastically.

How feasible is this? By just looking at GMC's website, one of their largest SUVs, the Yukon, has recently been made into a hybrid. What are the changes? A maximum MPG of 17 is now 22 (on highways). With Americans and American car companies continuing to produce large vehicles, this seems to be a hard task.

Hildog lays out a plan that is much the same, focusing on emissions, green low-income housing, 50$ billion in research money, and increasing vehicle efficiency to 55(!) MPG by 2030. First of all, the 55 MPG seems drastic, and pretty far fetched as it could be 15 years after Hillary could be out of office. The research fund seems like a feasible plan, although I am not one to boast about my knowledge on government funding allocations. Probably the most appealing thing, and least likely to happen, on her list to me is the low-income green housing which she hopes to create jobs and spread environmental awareness with.

Still, I would be happy to see maybe 20% of the promises being made on the candidates list to actually happen. It is safe to say that my expectations are low, but I will choose the best of the worst.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Charlie Batch: "Steelers Rule, Patriots (aka youth crime and dropping out of high school) Suck!"

So here's how it went down:

T-Bone: "What's up bro, remember that sick touchdown pass you had to Quincy Morgan??"
Charlie Batch: "Dude I rule. Now grab some girls we are headed to Diesel VIP... bottle service."

thanks to the jerk wearing a giant jacket and taking up the bottom left corner.

Well, actually, C Batch came to CMU to talk about his work in Homestead for the Batch Foundation which promotes after school activities and good grades, mostly through sports. I showed up, with one other person out of about 50, in my steelers jersey and terrible towel. He also answered a bunch of steeler questions, and had a bunch of good stories about the super bowl season, bettis, cowher...

My questions was "What is the biggest difference in playing for Cowher and Tomlin?" He kind of skirted around the answer and said Tomlin was just more reserved but had the same desire. The other great question, asked by Chris Watts was "How happy were the Steelers that the Patriots lost the Super Bowl?" This question was also not answered very directly, but he did confirm "I was happy."

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Journal #7: Environmental Assessment of Used Oil Management

I was referred to a paper written by one of the professors I will likely be working for next year, Arpad Horvath. It was a detailed Life Cycle Analysis of used oil management in California. The study focused on the three major management methods of combustion, rerefining, and distilling. The limits of the LCA were placed on the end-of-life phase to concentrate on generated wastes and emissions.

Used oil has significantly higher amounts of heavy metals, sulfur, and total halogens when compared to crude oil. It is generated by the transportation, construction, and industrial sectors, where it is then processed through one of the management methods and used as fuel, lubrication, or in other materials production such as asphalt.

Combustion is the most common method of management (75% of used oil). Combustion creates the least amount of waste, but results in much higher emissions of heavy metals when compared to the other management methods. This is the most hazardous risk to human health, and is not nearly as evident in rerefining and distilling. Still, combustion is the cheapest, easiest way to manage used oil which is reflected by its popularity.

The authors then advise that the best option is to take measures to increase management in rerefining and distilling. Already, California is planning to double its rerefining operations. Incentives could be created to reward alternate management methods (other than combustion).

This journal entry was more of a summary of a technical study than an analysis, and allowed me to get a chance to dissect a very detailed report by myself. It gave a better understanding of what goes into a full LCA, and its many applications in environmental engineering.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Journal #6: Urban Farming

Since urban farming was a popular topic in class yesterday, I decided to look it up online. I had no real previous knowledge of urban farming except for communal gardens, but those are only meant as a space for those who don't have lawns or garden areas (apartments).

So the first hit on google was the wikipedia article, which had limited cited sources and was marked as biased. Still it presented a lot of the basic principles of urban farming that we talked about in class. Urban farming, it reads, is geared to increasing city food supplies, providing much need jobs, making the urban public more environmentally conscious, and reducing land usage (deforestation or habitat destruction for farm use).

The intentions are great and the goals seem simple enough but not obtainable on the level that the article describes. Impacting a whole city's food supply does not seem feasible with the land available within city limits. Families with yards seems like a possibility if they are very dedicated, but I don't see how this could branch out much more without decreasing park space. Just thinking of a place like New York City being able to significantly increase their food supplies based on urban farming seems very far fetched. Probably it's most realistic and beneficial aspect could be the environmental awareness it creates, and employing youth participation could be the biggest its biggest impact on the future.

I read one of the links at the bottom of the page that introduced "Skyfarming", where a farm, using hydroponic techonology, is grown vertically to reduce land usage. The hope is that someday someone generates the funding to create largescale vertical farm (a farm skyscraper). This type of farming can create clean energy, purify wastewater, create consistency in food supplies (eliminating dangerous "rogue" strains), and would be all-organic. Something this seems so futuristic that it can seem unbelievable, but appears that with real funding could achieve the goals of urban farming within the small amounts of land available in a city.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Journal #5: LEED Schools Program

So after learning a little more about LEED at the Focus the Nation lectures, I decided I should become way more acquainted with some of their practices. This was a goal of mine from the beginning of the semester as I was registered to take the Archie LEED course which was dropped a week before classes further reinforcing my distrust for their profession.

I checked the U.S. Green Buildings Council website and took a look at the only presentation I could get to work on my computer. It was a powerpoint on LEED certification in U.S. Schools. First I was unaware that schools were the greatest economic sector of the construction industry in 2007. However, most of the schools are built only to meet requirements and are subject to continual expensive maintenance practices. With about 20% of the population spending 6 hours a day in schools, it seems that much attention could be given to make the schools more accommodating.

So then they pitch the usual LEED buildings things of reducing waste, energy consumption, and making a more naturally comfortable environment. The effects on the building users are what I felt would be most different in schools than other LEED buildings. The presentation boasts that LEED schools have a 3% increase in user productivity and a 3% decrease in teacher turnover. I don't really feel that these will be the most beneficial effects. It would be interesting to see if there was a real decrease in high school dropouts in a school that was recently upgraded into meeting a lot of LEED standards. Also, I feel the greatest benefit would be the early environmental education that the LEED building would reinforce for students. At an early age kids could be fully aware of our environmental problems and what needs to be done to change things, and hopefully this could make an entire generation environmentally conscious from the start. This could trickle out to parents and communities easily, even though the change would be slow. This aspect goes along with my other post of how AASHTO is trying to educate the worker, not the manager. It is more important to educate on the seemingly lesser scale to really see an impact.

The LEED dudes also cite that meeting standards reduces costs by $100,000 a year on average. Although this is a great pitch, it might just result in government reduction of the education budget, which would be a tragedy. Still, I am glad to see the USGBC striving to see change in the schools.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Really Dumb People

Overheard in squirrel hill brueggers:

Lady #1: "I should see some of the [Oscars] best picture nominees."

Lady #2: "Yeah, I really should see 'There Will Be Blood.'"

Lady #3: "No, no. I hated it! Too dark for me. I didn't really get it. But you know what was great? Juno!"

And then I threw my everything bagel at her face, high fived the cashier, and chugged a beer next door at silky's.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Journal #4: Green Practices at CMU

I went to the 1:30 "Focus the Nation" lecture on LEED buildings and green practices on campus. The LEED presentation was interesting and the speaker (Azziz from Architecture) was entertaining, although he hadn't checked to see if his powerpoint would look ok on a pc, so things were a little screwy.

Going along with my last post, apparently a lot of the LEED certification deals with how the building is constructed and site maintenance. So that is another step, although I am sure that the center for intelligent design people will say it is not even close to what we should be doing. I have never been on any sort of enviro-friendly construction site, and hope that that changes soon so I can gain a better understanding.

The other half of the lecture was the head of the Green Practices on campus committee speaking about the unseen everyday practices that CMU implements. One of the listeners (an art student) was particular concerned with our current dining services waste. His point was that we are doing nothing to try and reduce waste at many of the campus dining services, and that a lot of the materials were unnecessary (polystyrene, paper, plastic...). His solutions were to think about having each student use their own dishes and be responsible for washing them, or to have them be washed at the end by dining serives, just that the same set was available for use again by the same student everytime.

Immediately I saw several (gigantic) flaws in this highly conceptual plan. The speaker was quick to point out that recently steps have been already made to reduce waste by students, as the cafeteria style Schatz has dishes and silverware that are washed and reused every meal. The speaker also pointed out that there is no way that a student having a single set or being responsible for washing could pass health codes.

I felt the student was not really choosing a solution that could really be pitched to a large body of users. I can't imagine the entire student body thinking that this was a better solution. Also, after our life cycle classes and paper vs. polystyrene readings, I think a strong case could be made that maybe the current food container use might not be that bad when looking at the entire life of the dishes vs. current containers. With the present dining system on campus it would be very hard to try and switch to dishes. Schatz is unique in that its location is optimal to have a cafeteria style without too much hassle in chasing down students that might walk off with dishes. The rest of the campus would be difficult to enforce such a system, the only other place I could see it working is in the Tepper eatery.

Maybe the entire dining system could use a complete makeover, as I never really liked the food as a freshman and was very anxious to get off of the meal plan. Then it could be possible to make a switch to dishes, but I don't think it would be economical without first looking at a total analysis of the possible cases.