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UD's Byrne receives 2009 AIA Sustainability Award

UD's Byrne receives 2009 AIA Sustainability Award

John Byrne, University of Delaware Distinguished Professor of Energy and Climate Policy and director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy, is the recipient of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Delaware 2009 Sustainability Award.

Byrne accepted the award from AIA Delaware President Kevin W. Wilson during the Sustainable Delaware 2009 Conference, held Thursday, Oct. 15, in Clayton Hall. The conference also included a free public workshop session on Friday, Oct. 16.

Based in Washington, D.C., with 300 state and local chapters, AIA has been the leading professional membership association for licensed architects, emerging professionals, and allied partners since 1857.

The award presentation also included remarks by Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, James L. Ford III, mayor of Lewes, and State Sen. Harris McDowell III, who chairs the Senate Energy and Transit Committee.

In presenting the award, Wilson described Byrne as a “man who has dedicated his career toward creating a sustainable future.”

The 2009 Sustainability Award, Wilson noted, also recognizes Byrne's contributions and leadership in making a significant impact on the issue of climate change and the challenges facing our planet.

“For his contributions in working with the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), Dr. Byrne shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with fellow researchers on that panel,” Wilson said. “In recognition of Dr. Byrne, the Delaware AIA underscores our social responsibility as architects and licensed professionals to bear on and execute for the general welfare of society.”

In accepting the award, Byrne thanked colleagues from the UD Center for Energy and Environmental Policy, including Kristen Hughes, policy fellow, for working with Delaware AIA to make the conference possible.

Byrne also cited the vision and pioneering environmental efforts of former Delaware Gov. Russell W. Peterson.

“I am humbled, and I have to say, frankly, intimidated being here today, because in this room are several leaders that have really shone very highly in our state and in our country in trying to direct us to where our future needs to be,” Byrne said. “First and foremost among these, if he will allow me to cobble together from two of his books, our 'patriot rebel,' former Gov. Russell W. Peterson. I am extremely honored to have him here and wish him the best.”

Byrne also noted that the work of government leaders and organizations like AIA underscore the importance of meeting the many environmental challenges facing the nation and the world.

“For most of our history as human beings, we stepped rather lightly on our planet, and our footprint was small. When we invented a technique, it did not compete with nature, but modestly utilized nature's processes,” Byrne said. “However, in the recent century, we have been building an accumulation of chemicals in the atmosphere, principally from energy combustion, which has led to a process of climate change.”

To address the issue of climate change, Bryne said the IPCC estimates that a reduction of 60 to 80 percent in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases must be achieved by midcentury “if we are to turn off this most dangerous of experiments.”

“Whether we like it or not, we must now act on the problem of climate change,” Byrne said. “The reduction means that a return to a planetary budget of 3.3 tons of carbon emission per person, per year, is where we need to be.”

While most of Africa, Asia and Latin America have observed this budget, Europe, Japan and the United States have significantly overshot this budget at a rate that continues to grow, Byrne said.

“We need a paradigm shift in order to make our way toward a sustainable future, and fortunately, there are signs that we are making that shift,” Byrne said. “In experiments in communities around the world, teams are working toward a different model of our future than the one that was built in the 20th century. It will be an alternative to the current unsustainable pathway.”

Byrne noted that while it is important to have government and the business community involved, concerned individuals and groups must continue to move ahead with this paradigm shift.

“We really must have our eyes set on the only future that is feasible for us and our grandchildren,” Byrne said. “That future is a sustainable future where our grandchildren can enjoy playing under the sky without worrying about the carbon consequences.”

In recognizing the need for global collaboration on reversing the effects of climate change, Bryne acknowledged the contributions made by government leaders and administrators at the state and national level.

“This could not be a more difficult time to be to be governor of the state or, for that matter, to be president of the United States,” Bryne said. “It is a daunting task, yet (Gov. Jack Markell) has taken up this requirement in one of the most difficult economic times we have seen and he has done this with vision and leadership that allows us in the energy and environmental field to move ahead and take significant steps that will help us achieve that sustainable future that we must have.”

Markell noted that Delaware stands at a crossroads and needs to rebuild its economy and create good jobs for First State residents.

“We must protect our precious natural resources and improve public health,” Markell said. “I believe that these needs are not in conflict with each other, but can be advanced simultaneously if we act strategically and marshal our resources effectively.”

The first step toward creating a green economy lies in embracing energy efficiency and conservations in homes, businesses and the design and construction of new buildings, Markell said.

In making energy efficiency the highest priority in the state, Markell noted that as governor, he proposed and signed legislation that sets mandatory consumption reduction targets of 15 percent by 2015. The legislation also adopts aggressive energy efficiency building codes while establishing a loading order in which energy efficiency and renewable resources must be exhausted before any new fossil fuel generation, and requires the decoupling of utility rates.

“We're also launching one of the largest energy efficiency programs in the nation, the sustainable energy utility,” Markell said. “One of the initiative's founders, Dr. John Byrne, has received a well-deserved honor today from all of you for this important work.”

The adoption of one of the most progressive building codes in the nation is a way to help the state move beyond a handful of Leadership in Energy Design (LEED) projects by working to ensure that all projects are designed to be green while helping residents benefit from sustainable design and construction, Markell said.

According to information posted on the U.S. Building Council's Web site (, LEED is an internationally recognized green building certification system.

“While we can make great progress trying to retrofit existing buildings, it is most cost effective to ensure that all new products incorporate sustainable measures from the beginning,” Markell said. “We're working to improve energy efficiency in our own buildings, adopt renewable sources of energy and achieve LEED certification for our facilities.”

Other initiatives, Markell noted, include:

  • Encouraging development of more sustainable sites;
  • Promoting infill development near existing infrastructure and amenities;
  • Creating walkable communities;
  • Reducing the need to develop greenfields;
  • Protecting important habitat;
  • Reducing storm water runoff;
  • Improving air quality; and
  • Reducing vehicle miles traveled.

While going green makes environmental sense, Markell noted that from an economic point of view, investments in energy efficiency also provide the greatest return in jobs and savings.

“We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to strengthen our local and national economy. The states and nations which most effectively marshal resources in support of an intelligent energy strategy will reap real dividends for generations to come,” Markell said. “We're making solid progress in Delaware, and I believe we're well on our way to emerging as a leading example of a green economy, but, we can do even more, and more quickly.”

Markell said that moving public health and environmental responsibility to the middle of the state's public policy debate must also be accompanied by a similar effort in design and construction projects.

“Individual green projects are a great start, but if we want to become a model for the nation, we must integrate these elements into all of our design and construction,” Markell said. “Thank you for all that you do to make Delaware the great place that it is. Together, I know that we can strengthen our economy for generations to come and build the Delaware that we all know is possible.”

Article by Jerry Rhodes
Photos by Ambre Alexander