University of Delaware
delware environmental institute

New design for new climate


The extent of carbon recycling by the biosphere is vast, far beyond anything human-made technology could accomplish. The planet's natural carbon cycle allows for gigatons of this gas to be released without harm. For humans, the earth's expectation is that each of us annually emits not more than 3.3 tons of carbon dioxide.

Most of Africa, Asia and Latin America have observed this budget. Europe has not -- the continent releases more than 14 tons per person per year; Japan -- our most efficient industrial economy -- releases nearly 11 tons; and the U.S. overshoots its budget by more than any country on Earth -- we emit upward of 21 tons of carbon dioxide per person per year, and our per-capita amount is growing.

The challenge of addressing the most global and complex threat to the life web could not occur at a more difficult time. With a worldwide recession that includes a staggering local manifestation -- Delaware will again face a very large shortfall in revenues for its state budget -- it can be hard to muster the collective will to tackle climate change. Yet, we must do so.

The research community has a vital role to play. We must invent new technologies and greatly improve performance in the energy sector. An interdisciplinary knowledge of sustainability is urgently needed that joins science, engineering, economics and policy in a common effort to change direction.

University communities offer laboratories to incubate new ideas and to test them in practical settings. Recently, the University of Delaware signed the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment, with the goal of realizing a carbon-neutral campus.

To fulfill its pledge, an aggressive Climate Action Plan has been adopted. It will cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 20 percent in 2020.

Key steps in this plan include the greening of its existing buildings and holding new construction to LEED-equivalent standards. (LEED is a green building certification system.)

Single-stream recycling has been implemented across the campus and green purchasing criteria are being used for university procurements. A first phase of retrofits is being finalized that will make existing buildings both smarter and greener, while a new building to pioneer interdisciplinary science, engineering and policy research will embrace leading-edge green design features.

Importantly, the University of Delaware has taken bids on a bold initiative to supply up to 6 megawatts of its electricity needs from solar power. The U.S. Department of Energy has designated the university as the "center of excellence" in solar science and engineering and, with this initiative, the institution is putting into practice what it has successfully taught and researched for a generation.

Similarly, the architectural community has much to offer and a great deal to do.

Buildings, landscapes, communities and their networks must be rethought in order to dramatically lower the human footprint. Buildings account for nearly half (48 percent) of all U.S. annual energy consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions, which far outpaces both transportation (27 percent) and industry (25 percent). They also consume 76 percent of all electricity generated at power plants (source: Architecture 2030). It is estimated that by 2035, a surprising 75 percent of all buildings will either be new, rebuilt or have undergone extensive renovations. This is a tremendous opportunity for us to make a real and significant change in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and our reliance on fossil fuels.

The American Institute of Architects, representing 80,000 American architects, has established a 2030 commitment, with a goal of carbon-neutral buildings by the year 2030. A widespread effort and implementation of this plan through incentives, policy and regulatory changes would pay dividends for generations to come.

The Delaware chapter of the AIA is committed to partnering with our policymakers and the research community in creating environmentally friendly, sustainable buildings for our communities.

By working together, we can reverse the trends in greenhouse-gas emissions, stimulate our economy and achieve energy independence through wise planning and design of our built environment.

Published in the Sunday News Journal, Nov. 15, 2009, p.A33. pdf