August 2007

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Our Industry's Violent DisAgreement
And How to Move Forward Toward a More Efficient Future

Thomas Hartman, P E
The Hartman Company

Contributing Editor

Recently I had a conversation with an architect who more than a year ago wrote an article about global warming issues. He discussed what many scientists believe is the cause and what the likely results will be. The article attracted correspondence from several engineers that claimed the scientific evidence presented was biased because climate, they said, is not affected by human activity. The architect told me he has continued to receive communication from one of the engineers who periodically cites increasingly dubious references calling global warming a myth. Recently he wrote to tell the engineer his references are being overwhelmed by others that confirm a human impact on climate. The engineer responded, adamant that mainstream science is the one in error, but also noted that in his own life and engineering practice he tries to extol the virtues of efficiency and resource conservation anyway. So, the architect told me, we’re still having a strong disagreement, but we basically agree on what we should be doing at this time in our lives and careers. “Why, he asked me rhetorically, ‘are we arguing?”

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It is a good question that I increasingly ask myself as I view the science and debates on the magnitude and immediacy of the issue, and what should be done to position our industry for the next generation of building design and construction to meet society’s needs. I think the very fact that many of us are asking ourselves what the argument is about means our industry has now reached the same consensus as the public at large. And that consensus is this; while we don’t know for certain how seriously or how soon an environmental crisis may develop, we quite universally agree on the need to become much more efficient in our use of resources and pay more attention to the environmental consequences of our actions.

But in order to get these increasingly universally accepted sustainable principles more widely integrated into the buildings our industry designs, constructs, and operate it’s up to those of us who have a shared concern about the immediacy of these environmental issues to lead in the direction of needed change. We must recognize that opposition to responsible resource and environmental stewardship has all but disappeared in the last several years. No longer is there real resistance to sustainable building projects. Rather the hurdle is a failure of our industry to organize ourselves with the right technologies and the right processes to easily build and operate systems that really utilize resources much more efficiently. So the path forward is not to argue what we now all really agree is the right approach, but rather for those of us who believe the need for the approach to be applied sooner rather than later to display the leadership our industry needs to devise a path for bringing truly sustainable buildings to a mainstream reality.

Reliable Controls I am disappointed when I see owners, contractors, utility representatives, building operators, engineers, and even efficiency specialists who genuinely desire improvement in the state of sustainable buildings continue to allow the disjointed and convoluted processes employed in design and building construction to compromise the integrity and accountability of projects that seek, but too often fail to achieve more efficient results.

Getting on the path toward a much more sustainable future is not difficult to envision, but it can be very difficult to accomplish. The most fundamental change the industry must make is to swing the process around and become results orientated. Most designers, contractors and operators don’t even know how efficiently their building projects actually operate. That reality requires a complete change. Results oriented projects with a well defined and integrated design and construction process that incorporates effective accountability in place of finger pointing is the direction our industry needs to work toward. Arguing how desperate the situation is will not gain us any ground, especially since we are running out of things of any substance to argue about. Leadership toward an effective results oriented design and construction process will take us a giant step toward where we need to travel. That should be the goal of our current efforts.



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