Every day we bombarded with images of government leaders and C suite executives swanning around the globe attending events, conferences, summits, Davos, and the like, demonstrating that the idea of trying to lower carbon emissions is just an idea for the great unwashed, they must have a shelf granted exemption right?
Sustainability strategists happily jet setting across the planet to tackle climate change, is not their problem, it is our problem, the masses need to saving the planet.
Look at this great piece on QZ.com (link) tracking helicopter flights into and out of Davos during the world economic forum.
While surveys indicate people want to act or are willing to act more sustainability, the man on the street is busying learning visually.
When the boss leaves the lights on, he is signaling to everyone else, it is perfectly fine to leave the lights on and waste energy, for the masses it is easier to follow the norm rather than try to break the rule. If you ask why, people are unaware, they follow their intuition but given time some rational explanations emerge.
I see it every day, you probably see it too, more and more examples, of government officials and C suite executives chauffeured and helicoptered around Davos at great environmental cost.
We see groups and leaders ignoring sustainability choosing single-use plastic water bottles at “Green” conferences, people will say they want to act sustainably but don’t, they don’t because we can all see the real message and we learn from the C suite world examples.
Don’t listen to what people say, watch what they do
The above photo shows a Hong Kong shopping mall on 7 July 2019 with a large plastic bottle recycling vending machine on the right and smaller containers for collection and recycling on the left.
But compare that with Shanghai, China, where a compulsory separation of waste law commenced on 1 July 2019, essentially requiring residents to separate all domestic waste, with fines for non-compliance [SCMP report]. At least initially it’s apparent that this new regulation will be rigidly enforced, and that could be just enough for behavior change and changing habits.
Although it does mean, that once again, Hong Kong finds itself lagging behind.
For occupancy, a new building must be complete, including water fixtures, taps, etc. and WSD will not provide the water meter to a premises where unapproved fittings are installed.
So to get around this problem, Hong Kong Public Housing flats are provided with a very basic type of water tap, to gain the necessary government approvals. Then when the tenants take over the property, and many new tenants immediately pay for replacing taps and fixtures with more stylish models.
This wasteful practice is not limited to public housing projects. Some Interiors designers will choose exotic water fixtures, including taps, showers, washbasins, and toilets that have not undergone the WSD approved the process, therefore brand new “temporary” taps and basic white basins are installed until receipt of WSD approval.
Then after WSD approval, the new washbasins are ripped out, replaced with exotic basins and taps specified. Its no secret, the industry is well-aware, yet this incredibly wasteful practice persists.
An online survey by SCMP tells the whole story, we don’t believe you, we don’t believe those flashy slogans corporations are selling. It’s part of the endless assault, trying to persuade us that corporations, particularly large corporations are great and green.
82% (so far) believe corporate sustainability is just a slogan, that’s a shocking indictment of Hong Kong’s corporates in the sustainability stakes. But why? Perhaps there is a simple answer, the Hong Kong public are not so gullible, they do not believe the hype, or those glossy awards, from the trenches we see the real world every day.
We see and believe, and all the hype, is just hype.
The administration of New York City, USA has provided environmental leadership banning single use Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) also known as Styrofoam, including loose fill ‘peanuts’ used for packing, beginning on 1 July 2015, but a concession, a six month grace period, will be granted so the law and fines will be effective from 1 January 2016.
We know there are insufficient resources to go around, right? Perhaps not. However, there are options, the idea of one planet living (http://www.oneplanetliving.com) gives guidance, like David Letterman’s feature, it provides a convenient top ten list, but how can we migrate from the status quo to a more sustainable future?
Green Building or clean technologies? What is the solution? Well in reality it is not that easy, I have seen Variable Frequency Drives (VFD) intended to provide fan speed control and save energy, locked at one speed, I have seen the building’s central chiller plant operated when one room demands cooling, I have seen room temperature sensors located above lighting fittings (lights are heaters) therefore the air conditioning system continuously calls for more cooling. etc.
So if I have learned one thing, it’s not the latest new idea or the wizbang technology itself that matters, what really matters is how we use the equipment and operate the facilities.
But before we all become operator angels, we will need to optimise and improve design, and not just buildings, but their context, we need more design not less, and we have to be prepared to pay for it. The challenges we face require scaled solutions, beyond a single building, and communities provide sufficient scale to enable working solutions (see also Every Community a Powerhouse).
And these solutions should be local. In my diagram above, waste can be managed AND reused. For example, water a separate stack would collect greywater for reuse primarily within the community, for example irrigation or process water for local industry.
Its more important than ever before that Eco-districts cover all aspects of our daily life including work! In the USA vast cities developed where work and home are very separate, with little public transportation, the urban sprawl created the un-walkable distance, increasing the demand for a private car, and in reality more than one car.
Creating distal residential areas in remote isolation is a recipe for disaster, we need closer communities, communities where certain resources can be shared or call them eco-districts, which are places we can work, play, and live.
We must optimise the use of resources, rainwater can be captured from several buildings are used communally for industrial use, irrigation, or your local energy generation. We have become accustomed to throwing things away, out of sight – out of mind, but there is no away, a far better solution is to handle all waste locally, and yes we should encourage more recycling, but we must be practical, and the local reminder (that there is no away) should be visible in your backyard, and it should be used locally whether for power generation, compost, or biogas (fuel for cooking) when possible locally.
We invest in expensive and energy-hungry air conditioning systems for offices that are typically used 9-7, then we repeat the investment and resource use, providing air conditioning for homes, with a little planning forethought, and load profile analysis, one AC system could serve both the office (during the day) and our homes (outside office hours), this natural synergy would save considerable cost and resource use.
The technology exists, but that is the easy part, we need solutions at scale, we need Government, stakeholders, communities to embrace change, and start managing and operating the entire planet.