sustainable development

Firefighter Safety & Solar Photovoltaic Panels On Buildings ??

2016-09-14:  Only now are we really catching up with the extremely serious matter of Fire Safety in Sustainable Buildings … serious for building occupants … and firefighters !

‘ In order to achieve sustainable development, environmental protection and energy efficiency/conservation shall constitute integral parts of the development process, and shall not be considered in isolation.’

2016 Dublin Code of Ethics: Design, Engineering, Construction & Operation of a Safe, Resilient & Sustainable Built Environment for All   ( www.sfe-fire.eu )

The Performance Target for New Construction must be Positive Energy Buildings.

So … we will see more and more Solar Photovoltaic Panels installed on more and more buildings … in every country.  Certainly not less !   And, let’s face it, many will not be properly approved, i.e. shown to be ‘fit for their intended use’ …

Colour photograph showing a house fire caused by Solar Photovoltaic Roof Panels.
Colour photograph showing a house fire caused by Solar Photovoltaic Roof Panels.

At the beginning of this decade, a Fire Research Project was carried out by the Underwriters Laboratories Firefighter Research Institute in the USA … and it addressed the issue of firefighter vulnerability to electrical hazards, and serious injury, when fighting a fire involving Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Modules and Support Systems installed on buildings.

Colour photograph showing two firefighters on a roof, one with cutting equipment. Solar Photovoltaic Roof Panels restrict firefighter access to building interior roof spaces.
Colour photograph showing two firefighters on a roof, one with cutting equipment. Solar Photovoltaic Roof Panels restrict firefighter access to building interior roof spaces.

The Total Global Solar Energy Capacity averaged 40 % annual growth from 2000 to 2010 (source: International Energy Agency).  In the USA, Grid-Connected Solar Photovoltaic Capacity grew 50 % per year for much of that time (source: US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission).  These trends increase the potential of a Fire Service Response to a building having a Photovoltaic Installation, irrespective of the PV being involved with the initiation of the fire event.  As a result, conventional firefighter tactics for suppression, ventilation and overhaul have been complicated, leaving firefighters vulnerable to potentially unrecognized exposure.  Though the electrical and fire hazards associated with electrical generation and distribution systems are well known, PV Systems present unique safety concerns.  A limited body of knowledge and insufficient data exist to understand these risks … to the extent that Fire Services have been unable to develop safety solutions and respond in a safe manner.

This Fire Research Project developed the empirical data needed to quantify the hazards associated with PV Installations … and provided the foundation to modify current or develop new firefighting practices to reduce firefighter deaths and injury.

Colour photograph showing a large array of Solar Photovoltaic Panels on a roof. Extra loading on roof structures must be considered, as well as possible interference with roof fire evacuation routes for able-bodied occupants.
Colour photograph showing a large array of Solar Photovoltaic Panels on a roof. Extra loading on roof structures must be considered, as well as possible interference with roof fire evacuation routes for able-bodied occupants.

The Tactical Considerations addressed during the Project include:

  • Shock hazard due to the presence of water and PV power during fire suppression activities ;
  • Shock hazard due to the direct contact with energized components during firefighting operations ;
  • Emergency disconnect and disruption techniques ;
  • Severing of conductors ;
  • Assessment of PV power during low ambient light, artificial light and light from a fire ;
  • Assessment of potential shock hazard from damaged PV Modules and Systems.

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Office of California’s State Fire Marshal – November 2010

Fire Operations for Photovoltaic Emergencies (CAL FIRE – 2010)  (PDF File, 1.99MB)

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UL Report (2011):  The Following Summarizes the Findings of This Fire Research Project:

  1. The electric shock hazard due to the application of water is dependent on voltage, water conductivity, distance and spray pattern.  A slight adjustment from a solid fire hose stream towards a fog pattern (10 degree cone angle) reduced measured current below perception level.  Salt water should not be used on live electrical equipment.  A distance of 6 m has been determined to reduce potential shock hazard from a 1000 VDC source to a level below 2 mA, considered as safe.  It should be noted that pooled water or foam may become energized due to damage in the PV System.
  1. Outdoor weather exposure-rated electrical enclosures are not resistant to water penetration by fire hose streams.  A typical enclosure will collect water and present an electrical hazard.
  1. Firefighters’ gloves and boots afford limited protection against electrical shock provided the insulating surface is intact and dry.  They should not be considered equivalent to Electrical Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
  1. Turning off an array is not as simple as opening a disconnect switch.  Depending on the individual system, there may be multiple circuits wired together to a common point such as a combiner box.  All circuits supplying power to this point must be interrupted to partially de-energize the system.  As long as the array is illuminated, parts of the system will remain energized.  Unlike a typical electrical or gas utility … on a PV Array, there is no single point of disconnect.
  1. Tarps offer varying degrees of effectiveness to interrupt the generation of power from a PV Array, independent of cost.  Heavy, densely woven fabric and dark plastic films reduce the power from PV to nearly zero.  As a general guide, if light can be seen through a tarp, it should not be used.  Caution should be exercised during the deployment of tarps on damaged equipment, as a wet tarp may become energized and conduct hazardous current if it contacts live equipment.  Also, firefighting foam should not be relied upon to block light.
  1. When illuminated by artificial light sources, such as Fire Department light trucks or an exposure fire, PV Systems are capable of producing electrical power sufficient to cause a lock-on hazard.
  1. Severely damaged PV Arrays are capable of producing hazardous conditions ranging from perception to electrocution.  Damage to the array may result in the creation of new and unexpected circuit paths.  These paths may include both array components (module frame, mounting racks, conduits, etc) and building components (metal roofs, flashings and gutters).  Care must be exercised during all operations, both interior and exterior.  Contacting a local professional PV Installation Company should be considered to mitigate potential hazards.
  1. Damage to modules from tools may result in both electrical and fire hazards.  The hazard may occur at the point of damage or at other locations depending on the electrical path. Metal roofs present unique challenges in that the surface is conductive unlike other types such as shingle, ballasted or single ply.
  1. Severing of conductors in both metal and plastic conduit results in electrical and fire hazards.  Care must be exercised during ventilation and overhaul.
  1. Responding personnel must stay away from the roofline in the event of modules or sections of an array sliding off the roof.
  1. Fires under an array but above the roof may breach roofing materials and decking … allowing fire to propagate into the attic space of the building.

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2014 Zero Project Accessibility Conference – More Hot Air !!

2014-02-07:  Another year, and here we go again !   Except this time around … the bullshit, hot air and ‘blah-blah-blah’ must end !!   Certainly here, and at every other opportunity as well … I will demand to hear far less talk, but to see a lot more effective action on this important issue of human and social rights !!!

Just before Christmas (2013), I received a personal invitation to attend the Zero Project Conference on Accessibility for All, which will take place in a few weeks time on 27 & 28 February … at the United Nations Offices in Vienna (one of my favourite cities), Austria.  You can read all the details about the conference here: http://zeroproject.org/conference/    The following is my polite and restrained reply to that invitation, dated 14 January 2014 …

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RE: 2014 Zero Project Conference on Accessibility for All

To Whom It May Concern,

Thank you very much for your invitation to attend the upcoming Zero Project Conference on ‘Accessibility’ … but, having carefully examined the Draft Conference Programme, I must decline … and will not be attending.

Concerning Accessibility for All … the biggest problem within the European Accessibility Community is that we are all talk and no action.  The shameful reality is that the Human Environment (including the social – built – virtual – economic environments) remains emphatically inaccessible throughout Europe and far beyond !

Even though the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is in place, ratified by the European Union and many of the EU Member States … and International Standard ISO 21542: ‘Building Construction – Accessibility and Usability of the Built Environment’ has been fully adopted … the first conference session is still asking the basic question “What is Accessibility ?”

Instead of a detailed examination of how the elaborate Accessibility Agenda contained in Articles 9, 11 and 19 of the UN CRPD can be properly and satisfactorily implemented, in an independently monitored (Art. 33), harmonized and culturally-sensitive manner across the globe … you will be presenting an ‘Access’ Beauty Pageant.  Istanbul, a beautiful city with which I am very familiar, is only at the earliest stages of awareness about accessibility … and the recently published Hong Kong Fire Safety Code completely ignores fire safety for building occupants with disabilities !   Ireland is determined to delay ratification of the UN CRPD for as long as possible, and will refuse to ratify the Convention’s Optional Protocol … and I also know that implementation of the CRPD is meeting stiff resistance within the Institutions of the European Union.

Sustainable Development and the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) receive no attention in the Zero Project Conference Programme … even though it took a lot of effort to ensure that the innovative and forward-looking Preamble Paragraph (g) was incorporated in the Convention.  Within the rapidly evolving SDG drafting process, it is still not properly understood why and how Accessibility for All is a fundamental attribute of a Sustainable and Resilient Human Environment.

Concerning Mainstreaming … I describe a typical ‘real’ situation on our Technical Blog ( www.cjwalsh.ie/2012/11/new-legal-normative-environment-for-accessibility-in-europe/ ) … but this constant annoying struggle, and discussion on finding common approaches to its successful resolution, are absent from the Programme.

For us, attendance at the 2014 Zero Project Conference would be a waste of scarce organization resources.  For Europe, however, the Conference represents a much greater waste … a magnificent opportunity missed !

Regards,

C. J. Walsh, B Arch FRIAI MIBCI MIFS MIFireE – Consultant Architect, Fire Engineer & Technical Controller.

  • Member, CIB Task Group 87: ‘Urban Resilience – Benchmarking & Metrics’.
  • Member, CIB Working Commission 14: ‘Fire Safety’.
  • Chair, CIB W14 Research Working Group IV: ‘Structural Reliability & Fire-Induced Progressive Damage’.
  • Member, CIB Working Commission 108: ‘Climate Change & the Built Environment’.
  • Member, EU Expert Working Group on Urban Environment Research.
  • Member, EU EYPD Expert Group on Accessibility.

Managing Director, Sustainable Design International Ltd. (Ireland & Italy) and Sürdürülebilir Tasarım Tic.Ltd.Şti. (Turkey).

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This 2014 Zero Project Conference on Accessibility for All is divorced from Reality … and the Real Needs of many vulnerable people in all of our communities !

Without an Effectively Accessible Human Environment (including the social, built, virtual and economic environments) … access to many other human and social rights, e.g. education, housing, medicine, voting, etc., is prevented and unjustly barred.

Building Accessibility has been clearly specified in the new International Standard ISO 21542: ‘Building Construction – Accessibility & Usability of the Built Environment’ as including … ‘access to buildings, circulation within buildings and their use, egress from buildings in the normal course of events, and evacuation in the event of an emergency’.

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Urgent ! … Next Generation Architectural Design Concepts

2013-05-30:  Further to the recent post here, dated 2013-04-02 … and this Page on our Corporate WebSite …

Pausing … and stepping back … to consider conventional architectural practice, how architects are educated, and whether or not the professional institutes are helping, or handicapping, the forward progress of Architecture for a Better, More Sustainable World … I am deeply concerned about the future …

1.  Should it be ‘Multi-Disciplinary’ or ‘Trans-Disciplinary’ ?

The word ‘trans-disciplinary’ is confusing to a lot of people … surprisingly, to many at senior levels in construction-related industries, research sectors, and academia … not just in Ireland, but internationally.  The more senior the level, it seems the higher are the walls of that proverbial ‘box’.  But, let me reassure you, thinking outside the ‘box’ is not confined to people in their early 20’s !!

Looking over just the initial list of Consultant Specialists in a complex architectural project … it is the task of the Architect to transform a widely ‘multi-disciplinary’ input into a coherent ‘trans-disciplinary’ output.  These two concepts are very different.

Next Generation Architectural Processes and Procedures are urgently required …

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2.  EU Climate & Energy Policies – Key Driving Forces for Sustainability !

Recently, the European Commission issued this Green Paper … (which, by the way, has absolutely nothing to say about Climate Change Adaptation !) …

European Commission - COM(2013) 169 final Cover
Click to enlarge.

European Commission COM(2013) 169 final – Brussels, 2013-03-27

EU Green Paper – A 2030 Framework for Climate and Energy Policies

Click the Link Above to read and/or download PDF File (104 Kb)

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Concerning this Green Paper … Two Important Points …

(i)    Current European Union (EU) Climate and Energy Policies are not just a passing fad … they are here to stay.  With certainty, we also know that they will become more and more stringent … and that higher levels of performance will be mandated … not just on paper or a computer printout … but in reality, for example, in buildings which are constructed and actually occupied by ‘real’ building users.  Refer also to recent findings, in Europe, about the large and growing discrepancy between car fuel efficiencies claimed after testing in a laboratory, and when later monitored under ‘real’ driving conditions.

(ii)   It has now become obvious that the European Commission has lost the plot … big time !   Policies and Actions in closely related fields have been permitted to become fragmented, disjointed, and even counter-productive.  Written into the EU treaties is the term ‘sustainable development’ … an intricate, open, dynamic and continuously evolving concept.  However, senior levels (both political and bureaucratic) in the different Directorates-General of the European Commission have long ago forgotten, mislaid and/or lost the proper meaning of ‘sustainability’ … and the essential interdependency of its many aspects.

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… which brings me to the urgent necessity for Next Generation Architectural Design Concepts

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In Europe … the 1990’s and early 2000’s, taken together, was a period of construction experimentation and research.  We thought we could afford the resources and the lazy times … to try this, that and the other.  Little emphasis was placed on practical implementation in ‘real’ buildings.  However, the scale and immediacy of today’s Sustainable Development Challenges in the Built Environment have, within a few short years and much more quickly than expected, become unprecedented.

The Yanks (Gringos) are very strong on marketing … much stronger than Europe … so let’s examine a small model building … and see if its Architectural Design Concept is both coherent and comprehensive …

Mr. Amory Lovins, of the Rocky Mountain Institute in the USA ( www.rmi.org ) … has produced a very snazzy Visitor’s Guide to the sprawling complex that is ‘his home, bioshelter and office’ in Snowmass, Colorado … a Guide intended for wide public circulation.

Concerning this Building … Three Points of Interest(?) …

(i)    For a fleeting moment … let us imagine that a percentage – not even all – of the vast populations living in Africa, India and China wanted the same sort of lifestyle, including the house, that Amory Lovins possesses.  What would be the resource implications for this planet ??

RMI / Amory Lovins House, Colorado, USA - Exterior - Roof Photovoltaic (PV) Panels
Click to enlarge.

(ii)   In a first construction ‘try’ … separate solar and/or photovoltaic panels fixed in place on a roof … attached to the building, almost as an afterthought … were the norm.  Now, however, these building systems are no longer innovative … they must be properly shown to be ‘fit for their intended use’ (to comply with building regulations and codes) … and they should now be fully integrated into the architectural design concept for the building … which is not the case in the photograph above.  [ Car manufacturers face a similar design challenge today … how to successfully integrate new technologies, e.g. satellite navigation screens, smartphone docking stations, usb sockets, bluetooth, etc., etc., into the front dashboard.]

RMI / Amory Lovins House, Colorado, USA - Exterior - Tracking Photovoltaic (PV) Panel

Anyway … how reproducible is this model building in urban and suburban contexts … in the USA … or elsewhere in the world ??   How many people would have access to sufficient land outside a building to ‘plant’ one, or a series of photovoltaic panels ?   Tracking photovoltaic panels, as shown above ??   And as seen in Italy, with those ridiculous photovoltaic fields (in a post, dated 2011-11-07 ) … good agricultural lands should not be used for this purpose … not now, not ever, never !

RMI / Amory Lovins House, Colorado, USA - Interior - Building Services
Photograph taken by Judy Hill Lovins. Click to enlarge.

(iii)  Sustainable Buildings are ‘high-tech’ … and a very large amount and variety of electronic and mechanical equipment is necessary in order to reliably monitor and tightly control their performance … in other words, to operate a building in accordance with its design specification.  Again … these services should be fully integrated into the architectural design concept for what is, no longer, just a simple dwelling.  Do similar houses without basements, for example, now need a central well-ventilated service room, complete with compact workstation ?

RMI / Amory Lovins House, Colorado, USA - Interior - Battery Array
Photograph taken by Judy Hill Lovins. Click to enlarge.

In my opinion … the Architectural Design Concept for this building is not coherent.  The overall architectural impression is one of a large sprawling house, on a very large plot of land … with many different ‘environmental/energy’-related appendages, or add-ons.  Can you see any coherence ?

It is the task of the Architect to consider all facets of building performance at the earliest stages of design … whether a small building, or a very large complex building … and to integrate those many diverse, but interdependent, facets into a coherent architectural statement … having a conceptual single crystalline shape … while also bearing in mind ‘person-centredness’‘flexibility’, ‘adaptability’, ‘accessibility for all’, and a ‘long and useful life cycle’.

[ An aside … closer to home … we are now witnessing the rise of the ‘Passive House Designer’.  This person, who is able to use a specific computer software package … no less, and no more … need not necessarily be an architect, or have any architectural education/training.  Is it possible to refer to the realized output from this software as ‘architecture’ … or are they merely drab, boring boxes ?? ]

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3.  Sustainable Buildings, Fire Safety & Fire Engineering ?

In the elaborate Amory Lovins Visitor’s Guide above … there is only one mention of fire hazard in the building … and that is in relation to a Passive Clothes Dryer (Page 40).  End of story with regard to the Fire Safety Issues for its Users … and the Fire Engineering Implications arising from a chosen architectural design and chosen construction materials and methods.

When I was referring to a centrally located service room in # 2(iii) above … that room should also be structurally hardened, and fire and smoke ‘separated’ from other spaces in the house.  Or … if the service equipment is located in a roof space, there are implications for roof structural reliability in a fire situation, and the fire resistance of the ceiling construction beneath.  Or … if the equipment is located in a basement, a simple intermediate timber floor construction overhead is inadequate.

Furthermore … an intelligent fire detection and warning system … and a suitable domestic fire suppression system … are no longer luxuries or optional extras, but essential requirements !   Who would want to lose such a valuable investment ??

And insofar as fire safety issues are not being considered … it seems, at all … in the case of most ‘high-tech’, sustainable buildings … and certainly not in the case of the Lovins House … the Architectural Design Concepts for these buildings ‘suffer’ from a gaping hole … an enormous void … they are incomplete and, therefore, entirely inadequate.

Fire Engineering involves much, much more than mere compliance with building regulations and codes … whose fire safety objectives are limited, and whose performance requirements are sometimes inadequate and always minimal.

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Unfortunately … there is a fundamental conflict between Sustainable Building Design Strategies and the current state-of-the-art in Fire Engineering Design.  As an example … for cooling, heating and/or ventilation purposes in a sustainable building, it is necessary to take advantage of natural patterns of air movement in that building.  On the other hand, fire consultants in private practice, and fire prevention officers in Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ’s), will demand that building spaces be strictly compartmented in order to limit the spread of fire and smoke … thereby dramatically interfering with those natural patterns of air movement.

In everyday practice, there is a vast chasm in understanding and communication between these two very different design disciplines.  As a result, serious compromises are being enforced on Sustainability Performance.  If, on the other hand, adequate independent technical control is absent on the site of a Sustainable Building … it is the fire safety and protection which is being seriously compromised.

A range of critical fire safety issues (fatal, in the case of firefighters) are also arising from the Innovative Building Products and Systems being installed in Sustainable Buildings.

And because the emphasis is on pre-construction design ‘intent’ rather than the ‘real’ performance of the completed and occupied building … all of these problems are being conveniently sidestepped or ignored … and they remain hidden from everybody’s view.

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Sustainable Fire Engineering Design, on the other hand, is the creative response to Sustainable Design … and the powerful drivers of Climate Change Adaptation, and Energy Conservation/Efficiency in Buildings.

Sustainable Fire Engineering Design Solutions are …

  • Adapted to Local Conditions … Geography, Climate (change, variability and severity swings), Social Need, Culture, and Economy, etc., etc ;
  • ‘Reliability-Based’ … the design process is based on competence, practical experience, and an examination of ‘real’ extreme events, e.g. 2001 WTC 9-11 & 2008 Mumbai Attacks, and 2011 Fukushima Nuclear Incident … rather than on theory alone ;
  • ‘Person-Centred’ … ‘real’ people are placed at the centre of creative endeavours and proper consideration is given to their responsible needs … and their health, safety and welfare … and security … in the Human Environment.

Sustainability continues to fundamentally transform our Fire Engineering, Architectural and Consultancy Practice at Sustainable Design International Ltd (SDI) !

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Sustainable Design International Ltd. – Our Practice Philosophy

2012-10-25:   The Practice Philosophy of Sustainable Design International Ltd. is an issue which has occupied my mind greatly during this past summer … as I asked myself some difficult questions …

What has really been happening to our planet since 1992 … and earlier, since 1972 ?

Where is SDI now ?

Are we on the same track … the right track ?

Where are we going in the short to medium-term future ?

Architecture … is practice as a separate design disciple now obsolete ?

Fire Engineering … can it be dragged, screaming, from the proverbial ‘caves’ … and transformed to respond creatively to the safety and security requirements of a complex built environment ?

Sustainability … what impact does this intricate, open, dynamic and still evolving concept have … should it have … on the provision of conventional Architectural and Fire Engineering Services ?

‘Green’ … is this marketing ploy helpful … or an annoying obstacle … to effective implementation of Sustainable Development ?

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WBCSD's Vision 2050 Poster (2010)World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD)

Vision 2050: ‘The New Agenda for Business’ (2010)

Click the Link Above to read and/or download a PDF File (3.73 Mb)

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Colour image showing the Tile Page of 'Keeping Track of Our Changing Environment: From Rio to Rio+20 (1992-2012)' ... published in 2011 by the Division of Early Warning and Assessment (DEWA), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Nairobi. Click to enlarge.
Colour image showing the Tile Page of ‘Keeping Track of Our Changing Environment: From Rio to Rio+20 (1992-2012)’ … published in 2011 by the Division of Early Warning and Assessment (DEWA), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Nairobi. Click to enlarge.

2011 – United Nations Environment Programme

Keeping Track of Our Changing Environment: From Rio to Rio+20 (1992-2012)

Click the Link Above to read and/or download a PDF File (4.83 Mb)

Extract from ‘Foreword’ …

This publication serves as a timely update on what has occurred since the Earth Summit of 1992 and is part of the wider Global Environment Outlook-5 (GEO-5) preparations that will lead to the release of the landmark GEO-5 report in May 2012.  It underlines how in just twenty years, the world has changed more than most of us could ever have imagined – geopolitically, economically, socially and environmentally.  Very few individuals outside academic and research communities envisaged the rapid pace of change or foresaw developments such as the phenomenal growth in information and communication technologies, ever-accelerating globalization, private sector investments across the world, and the rapid economic rise of a number of ‘developing’ countries.  Many rapid changes have also taken place in our environment, from the accumulating evidence of climate change and its very visible impacts on our planet, to biodiversity loss and species extinctions, further degradation of land surfaces and the deteriorating quality of oceans.  Certainly, there have been some improvements in the environmental realm, such as the significant reduction in ozone-depleting chemicals and the emergence of renewable energy sources, new investments into which totalled more than $200 thousand million in 2010.  But in too many areas, the environmental dials continue to head into the red.

Achim Steiner, United Nations Under-Secretary-General, and Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Nairobi.

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Sustainable Design International Ltd. – Ireland, Italy & Turkey

[ http://www.sustainable-design.ie/ ] 

SDI Practice Philosophy Explained (October 2012)

Click the Link Above to read and/or download a PDF File (670 Kb)

SDI  is a professional, trans-disciplinary and collaborative design, architectural, fire engineering, research, and consultancy practice … specialists in the theory and practical implementation of a Sustainable Human Environment (social – built – virtual – economic).

WE are committed to … the protection of society, the best interests of our clients, and ‘user’ welfare … not just cost-effective compliance with the Minimal Health & Safety Objectives in Legislation & Codes !

Sustainability … continues to fundamentally transform our Architectural, Fire Engineering & Consultancy Practice.

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2012 Sustainable Society Index - World View at a Glance
Colour image showing the Sustainable Society Index World View for 2012 … presenting the world average scores for 21 Sustainability Performance Indicators. The inner circle of the spider’s web represents a score of 1, meaning no sustainability at all, while the outer ring represents a perfect score of 10 or full sustainability. Click to enlarge.

Sustainable Society Foundation – The Netherlands

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Colour image showing the Tile Page of 'Measuring Progress: Environmental Goals & Gaps' ... published in 2012 by the Division of Early Warning and Assessment (DEWA), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Nairobi. Click to enlarge.
Colour image showing the Tile Page of ‘Measuring Progress: Environmental Goals & Gaps’ … published in 2012 by the Division of Early Warning and Assessment (DEWA), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Nairobi. Click to enlarge.

2012 – United Nations Environment Programme

Measuring Progress: Environmental Goals & Gaps

Click the Link Above to read and/or download a PDF File (4.72 Mb)

‘Foreword’ …

If we measured the world’s response to environmental challenges solely by the number of treaties and agreements that have been adopted, then the situation looks impressive.  Over 500 international environmental agreements have been concluded since 1972, the year of the Stockholm Conference and the establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

These include landmark conventions on issues such as trade in endangered species, hazardous wastes, climate change, biological diversity and desertification.  Collectively, these reflect an extraordinary effort to install the policies, aims and desires of countries worldwide to achieve sustainable development.

Yet despite the impressive number of legal texts and many good intentions, real progress in solving the environmental challenges themselves has been much less comprehensive, a point clearly underlined in the Global Environment Outlook-5 (GEO-5), for which this report ‘Measuring Progress: Environmental Goals and Gaps’ and a previous publication ‘Keeping Track of Our Changing Environment: From Rio to Rio+20’ are companion products leading up to Rio+20.

This report outlines findings from a UNEP study that, with support from the Government of Switzerland, has catalogued and analyzed existing ‘Global Environmental Goals’ contained in the international agreements and conventions.  It asks the fundamental question as to why the aims and goals of these policy instruments have often fallen far short of their original ambition and intentions.  One possible reason is that many of the goals are simply not specific enough;  the few goals that are specific and measurable appear to have a much better record of success.

These include goals to phase out lead in gasoline, ozone-depleting substances (ODS) and certain persistent organic pollutants (POP’s), specific Millennium Development Goal targets calling to halve the number of people without access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation, and targets to increase the number and extent of protected areas.  Indeed, even when measurable targets have been set but not actually met, they have usually led to positive change and often to significant change.

The vast majority of goals, however, are found to be ‘aspirational’ in nature.  They lack specific targets, which generate obvious difficulties in measuring progress towards them.  In addition, many aspirational goals are not supported by adequate data that can be used to measure progress, global freshwater quality being one stark example.

It is clear that if agreements and conventions are to achieve their intended purpose, the international community needs to consider specific and measurable goals when designing such treaties, while organizing the required data gathering and putting in place proper tracking systems from the outset.

A set of Sustainable Development Goals, as proposed by the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Sustainability, could be an excellent opportunity and starting point to improve this situation while representing another positive outcome from Rio+20, two decades after the Rio Earth Summit of 1992 and four decades after the Stockholm Conference.

Achim Steiner, United Nations Under-Secretary-General, and Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Nairobi.

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Sustainable Buildings – Design Agenda for the 21st Century ?

2009-05-06:  From the late 1980’s and the beginning of the 1990’s in European Union (EU) Research Programmes, it was noticeable that the more pressing early concerns about Energy-efficiency – logical after the oil crises of the 1970’s – were beginning to merge with those of Environment-friendliness, i.e. protection of the environment.  Even at that time, however, faint background references to Sustainability were becoming more common.

 

In 1995, therefore, Sustainable Design International developed and introduced the acronym ‘SEED’ … which stands for Sustainable, Environment-friendly, Energy-efficient Development … as a practical control, or check, on our own work output.

 

 

The next break-through came a few years later.  I briefly discussed the wide conceptual basis for our Corporate Design Philosophy in the post: ‘Sustainable Human & Social Development ?’, dated 2009-03-31.  This basis, while still continually evolving, is critical in terms of services provided, performance targets to be achieved, methods of working and relationships with client organizations, builders, craftsmen/women, manufacturers, etc.

 

This should explain the futility, in our humble view, of the ‘Green’ Agenda (as distinct from the ‘Sustainability’ Agenda) … and approaches based solely on Environmental Aspects of Sustainable Development.  They are a complete waste of time and resources.

 

 

Now in 2009, we remain fully convinced that Sustainable Design Solutions are appropriate to local geography, social need, climate, economy and culture … and are ‘person-centred’ and ‘reliability-based’.

 

Forget the images of mud housing and reading by candle light … the Future of our Built Environment is High-Tech, Smart … and Sustainable !   Let there be no doubt !!

 

 

 

Why not begin, so, by looking at a Simple Building Type … Sustainable Housing ?

 

With all of the current hype and fuss about German ‘Passiv’ Houses and Austrian High-Tech Timber Framed Construction … we have been in contact with a number of manufacturers in this region of Central Europe.  After many meetings and detailed discussions, we are disappointed … broken hearted !

 

Below follows our shopping list for the practical, commercial and affordable application, i.e. non-research, of Advanced Systems of Construction (small/medium/large scale projects – new-build and existing projects).

 

N.B.  Current Irish legal requirements and local authority technical control procedures are entirely inadequate.

 

Is anybody out there listening ???

 

 

 

To meet the urgency of Climate Change Adaptation and the challenge of Reliable Sustainability Implementation … a ‘SEED’ Building in Ireland must reach these performance targets:

 

         be set in Sustainable Landscaping (where appropriate) with Life Cycle Sustainable Drainage … and exhibit a considered, harmonious relationship between the building’s ‘interior’ environment and the ‘exterior’ built and social environments ;

 

         have a Minimum Building Life Cycle of 100 Years ;

 

         be Smart/Intelligent, Electronically Mature and facilitate Remote Building Management ;

 

         be properly shown to be Fit for Intended Use (in the Location of Use) … by CE Marking, using European Standards/Norms & European Technical Approvals (refer to Part D of the Irish Building Regulations and similar requirements in other European national building codes, European Union Safety at Work and Product Liability Legislation) ;

 

         be Super Energy-Efficient, with negligible thermal bridging and accidental air seepage … and promote and encourage, by design, Energy Conservation ;

 

         have a substantial component of Renewable Energy & Heat Technologies … sufficient to return a multiple of the building’s energy consumption to an Intelligent Regional or District Grid … and also incorporate Recycling, Rainwater Re-Use and Waste Management Technologies ;

 

         offer a high level of Indoor Air Quality, including proper protection from Natural Radon ;

 

         be Flexible and Adaptable with regard to internal layout, and Accessible for People with Activity Limitations (2001 WHO ICF) – in order to prolong Building Life Cycle and maximize Building Usability ;

 

         contain, as standard and for reasons of safety, a Domestic Sprinkler System and a remotely monitored Fire Detection System … plus a Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detection System, with a detection unit in the vicinity of each fuel burning appliance ;

 

and

 

         be Competently Built and Reliably Completed to project programme and cost estimate … with the building’s ‘Real’ Performance-in-Use capable of being tested, and continually monitored, over the complete building life cycle ;

 

and

 

         be simple and straightforward for Building Users/Occupiers to operate.

 

 

 

Principal Areas of Inadequate Performance …

 

1.  Showing Fitness for Intended Use.  Although a Single European Market for the Construction Sector exists on paper (not yet in reality) … this requirement is not well understood by manufacturers … particularly in Germany and Austria, where outdated national approaches to building product/system approval still take precedence over anything at European level.

 

2.  Domestic Sprinkler Systems.  There is a high level of resistance, among most manufacturers, to the installation of these systems.  Not acceptable !!

 

3.  Accessibility of Buildings for People with Activity Limitations.  Not well understood by manufacturers and building organizations (at all levels).  Although there is a lot of legislation in Europe covering this particular issue … it is routinely disregarded and/or very poorly implemented.  In Germany and Austria, for example, the long outdated term ‘barrier-free design’ is still in common use.  Can you believe that ?

 

4.  Radon Protection of Buildings.  Not considered important in Germany and Austria … so manufacturers just don’t bother.

 

5.  Fabric Thermal Performance.  Where building systems are ‘adapted’ for use in Ireland, I have seen thermal performance, as originally designed in Germany/Austria, seriously compromised by the installation of meter boxes and permanent ventilation openings in external walls.  Just the tip of the iceberg !

 

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END

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Sustainable Human & Social Development ?

2009-03-31:  ‘Sustainable’ … ‘Sustainability’ … ‘Sustainable Development’ … what’s all this about ? … and where to begin ?

 

Words much abused … not only in English … but definitely in French !

 

Words much confused … for example, in the USA … where ‘Sustainable’ and ‘Green’ can be interchanged in the same conversation without apparent rhyme or reason.  Is there a difference between the two ?  Some people don’t want to admit that there is … those working in the Green Building Council … or those peddling the LEED Environmental Building Rating System around the more economically advanced developing countries in the world.  In India … you can find a ‘LEED’ Building, minimally adapted to local conditions and having used many imported products and systems in its construction (from you-know-where !) … sitting prettily in the neighbourhood of a slum.

 

In Ireland … remember the good old days, 12-18 months ago … when Economists could afford (?!?) to talk about ‘Sustainable Economic Development’ … did they really mean economic development which is compatible with sustainable development ?   No, they didn’t !

 

Is there any level of awareness amongst our Politicians ?   In the National Development Plan (2007-2013), Mr. Brian Cowan T.D., then Minister for Finance, wrote in a January 2007 Foreword to the Plan …

 

” This National Development Plan is about the future of those young people, their parents, and their grandparents.  It establishes a blueprint for the economic and social development of this island for future generations.

 

In this Plan, we have a unique window of opportunity to get it right: in terms of spatial planning, support infrastructure, environmental sustainability and economic growth.”

 

… an unusual limitation on the use and context for the word ‘sustainability’ … which should now also be exhibited in the National Gallery of Art !?!

 

Some Organizations openly state that they are dealing with … or they will only be dealing with … environmental aspects of sustainable development.  That is a silly waste of time … and counterproductive !

 

 

 

Properly Defining Sustainable Development

 

Let us quickly re-wind back to the end of the 20th Century …

 

… not as far back as the Stockholm Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, which met in Sweden, from 5-16th June 1972 … which, for us, was a very interesting exercise …

 

… but to the 1987 Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), which was chaired by Gro Harlem Brundtland (Norway).  Mansour Khalid (Sudan) was Vice-Chair of the Commission.

 

The definition of ‘Sustainable Development’ appears at the beginning of Chapter 2 …

 

” Sustainable Development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.  It contains within it two key concepts:

         the concept of ‘needs’, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given ;   and

         the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.”

 

Many readers may only be familiar with the first sentence above but, in isolation, that leaves the definition of ‘sustainable development’ so vague that it is almost meaningless.  And let us be clear in our own minds … an ambiguous definition will continue to be rejected by the Developing and Least Developed Regions of the World … the concept being viewed as an unaffordable luxury and/or a means of continued domination and control by the ‘North’.

 

Other readers may be surprised by the second, and more important, half of the WCED/Brundtland Definition.  It is clear, however, that it was always intended that there would be more than 3 Aspects of Sustainable Development … Environmental, Social and Economic … to be identified and examined.  How, on this Earth, was it possible for anybody to ever bring into existence that clumsy 3-Circle Diagram ???

 

 

The 1987 WCED/Brundtland Report continues a little further on …

 

” The satisfaction of human needs and aspirations is the major objective of development.  The essential needs of vast numbers of people in developing countries – for food, clothing, shelter, jobs – are not being met, and beyond their basic needs these people have legitimate aspirations for an improved quality of life.  A world in which poverty and inequity are endemic will always be prone to ecological and other crises.  Sustainable Development requires meeting the basic needs of all and extending to all the opportunity to satisfy their aspirations for a better life.

 

 

Sustainable Development is the greatest challenge ahead of us in this 21st Century.  It remains very much an intricate, open, dynamic and evolving concept …

 

… and a clear choice must be made: decide to pursue the detailed elaboration of this concept … either with the aim of practical implementation … or of intellectual masturbation.

 

We made that choice many years ago … back in the mid-1990’s.

 

 

 

Practical Implementation of Sustainable Human & Social Development

 

In order to make any ‘real’ progress … how can we establish, agree upon and achieve a wide international consensus on what the ‘basic needs of all’ are … and with some precision ?

 

Is there an internationally recognized document, already long in existence, where these ‘basic needs’ are not only specified for all people, but are protected and guaranteed ?

 

Yes, indeed there is … the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN OHCHR) … and these needs, therefore, can also be described as being ‘responsible’.

 

 

Reading through the 1948 UDHR, it might be helpful if a distinction is made between human rights and social rights …

 

Social Rights:

Rights to which an individual person is legally entitled, e.g. the right to free elementary education (Art.26(1), UDHR), but which are only exercised in a social context with other people, and with the active support of a competent legal authority, e.g. a Nation State.

 

Commentary: In contrast to Human Rights, it is not protection from the State which is desired or achieved, but freedom with the State’s help.

 

Social Rights, as distinguished here, include and extend beyond current understandings of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

 

 

 

This is why, almost a generation after the 1987 WCED/Brundtland Definition of  Sustainable Development …

 

… Sustainable Design International, has defined Sustainable Human & Social Development as follows …

 

Development which meets the responsible needs, i.e. the Human & Social Rights*, of this generation – without stealing the life and living resources from future generations, especially our children … and their children.

 

* As defined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN OHCHR).

 

 

Furthermore … for a sizeable group of people in all of our societies, the sole route of access to the human and social rights set down in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights … is the 2006 UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities … which became an International Legal Instrument on 3rd May 2008 … just short of 60 Years after the UDHR was adopted on 10th December 1948 !

 

 

A 3rd International Instrument to be placed at the top of this Framework of Basic & Responsible Needs, i.e. Rights … is the 2001 Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (UNESCO) … adopted in Paris, on 2nd November 2001 … and which came into being shortly after the World Trade Center (9-11) Incident in New York, on 11th September 2001.

 

The Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity raises cultural diversity to the level of the common heritage of humanity … as necessary for humankind as biodiversity is for nature … and makes its defence an ethical imperative which is robustly linked to, and cannot be separated from, respect for the dignity of each individual person.

 

Paris, at the end of 2001, presented the world with a valuable opportunity …

         to reaffirm the unshakable conviction that intercultural dialogue is the best guarantee of peace ;   and

         to reject outright the theory of the inevitable clash of cultures and civilizations.

 

 

So … once it is possible to construct an initial, robust framework of International Human & Social Rights Instruments … specifying the ‘basic needs of all’ … which underpins and cuts down to the core of a far more elaborate and hard-edged, 2nd Generation Definition of Sustainable Human & Social Development …

 

 

Colour image showing an extract from CJ Walsh's Presentation: 'Sustainable Fire Engineering', at a Building Seminar in Dubayy(UAE) towards the end of October 2008. The Initial Framework of International Human & Social Rights Instruments underpinning Sustainable Human & Social Development. Click to enlarge.
Colour image showing an extract from CJ Walsh’s Presentation: ‘Sustainable Fire Engineering’, at a Building Seminar in Dubayy(UAE) towards the end of October 2008. The Initial Framework of International Human & Social Rights Instruments underpinning Sustainable Human & Social Development. Click to enlarge.

 

… we can roll out the ‘Sustainability’ Agenda … and begin the serious task of transforming our Human Environment (see a previous post) by gradually improving and monitoring ‘real’ Sustainability Performance … using …

 

         Sustainability Impact Assessment (SIA) … see a previous post ;

 

and

 

         Performance Indicators ;

         Target Setting ;

         Benchmarking ;

         Performance Evaluation & Independent Verification ;

         Etc.

 

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END

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