25 April 2010

Sustainability Summit Presentation

Here is what I presented at the BYU Sustainability Summit several weeks ago. I have included each of the images used from the powerpoint presentation as well as my notes adjacent to each slide. Much of the material for the presentation was taken from this blog, so long-time followers of this blog (if there are any) will recognize much of the information. And, in a way, this represents a nice summary of the blog covering the last several years.

The presentation was attended by slightly more than fifty people and there were lots of great questions afterwards. I enjoyed being able to participate very much.

I wanted to thank Matt for inviting me to be here this evening. I appreciate you being here and the opportunity to share some of my thoughts. The artwork I've chosen to supplement this presentation with is from Robert ParkeHarrison in an exhibit titled The Architect's Brother.

ParkeHarrison conjured a destiny in which our overuse of the land had led to environments spent and abandoned, with the exception of one unwearying spirit (portrayed by ParkeHarrison himself). Donning the ill-fitting suit of the Everyman, he is the earthbound relation to the Creator-the Architect's Brother. With lyric poeticism and wry humor, he is the romantic anti-hero, taking up tasks of preservation that appear futile, yet also lay the foundation for the potential redemption of the natural world.

These attempts are portrayed by inventing machines and contraptions from junk and obsolete equipment which are intended to help the character jump-start a dying planet. He appears in every picture, patiently, dutifully doing a job that's too big for him. That job is essentially to take care of the devastated Earth with inadequate equipment. Perhaps this is one man's private way of saying that neither pollution, global warming nor digitalization can entirely extinguish the hands-on experience and the human desire to create.


So with that as a preface, we can now get to my top 10 reasons for choosing to be a green mormon: If only I had a drumroll like David Letterman...

Heber J Grant said,
"If there is any one thing that will bring peace and contentment into the human heart, and into the family, it is to live within our means."

Relating to that, there is a new sustainability website the church has put out on April 27th during a media day where the Presiding Bishopric spoke as the first of five new prototype LEED-certified chapels was completed. The site shows sustainable efforts of the church over the last 50 years.

The first one here is related to a cost savings. Geothermal power – provided an operational savings of $11,000/year for just this one chapel in Susanville, CA. There is an enormous amount of untapped geothermal power available in the Western US, including a great deal here in Utah.

Other ideas that have helped to save money
-Rainwater collection and storage to provide non-drinking water needs and irrigation

-Ecoregional landscaping was applied to the standard plan program. I am hopeful that we can apply some of the other efforts like rainwater collection or geothermal power to many more of our buildings and standard plans.

These examples are good sustainable efforts, and I’m glad that they are choosing to publicize these efforts. My hope is that sustainability will continue to become a true core value of the church and all our efforts so that we will be able to apply these concepts to all of our meetinghouse standard plans. We are doing a great deal, but there is so much more we could be doing.

Brigham Young said,
"We should waste nothing, but make everything in some way or other minister to our wants and independence. Everything which we use to feed the life of man or beast, not a grain of it should be permitted to go to waste, but should be made to pass through the stomach of some animal; everything, also, which will fertilize our gardens and our fields should be sedulously saved and wisely husbanded, that nothing may be lost which contains the elements of food and raiment for man and sustenance for beast."

I am a big fan of cities. But in a way, we have failed in the creation of our cities, which is why so many of them are being abandoned and falling into decay. Our cities are largely unsustainable because they rarely are infused with gardens, parks, or nature. As our society becomes more urban and digitized, we remove ourselves from the waters, sky, vegetation, and even other people, which in essence removes us from God. We are removing ourselves from the very things He has created that are continually bearing testimony of Him. Living close to these elements reminds us of our dependence on God for all things. As mostly urban dwellers, how can we avoid losing our connection towards nature?

One of my favorite recent purchases is the Green Bible. In it, over 1000 earth-friendly verses are highlighted in green and topically indexed for useful study. There are many inspirational essays and compilations of quotes by religious thinkers spanning many centuries. Even the book itself is a beautiful thing, made with a cotton/linen cover, recycled paper, soy-based ink, and a water-based coating. It is a joy to hold and read.

In the spirit of The Green Bible I have begun combing through the Book of Mormon, starting with First Nephi, to similarly highlight those scriptures as a topical study of the Creation, this Earth, our Natural Resources, Stewardship, and our Interdependence with all Life on the Earth. There are a surprisingly large number of scriptures that I felt had some link to these topics. I counted 159 verses out of 618 for more than 25% of the book of First Nephi.

Nephi uses extensive natural imagery focusing on wilderness, mountains, trees, and water. There is a reliance on the earth for survival, achieved by the presence of plants, animals, and insects. Natural resources from the earth molded into objects such as the brass liahona and the iron rod lead them via trees, water, and fertile lands to a future land of promise, and ultimately to God.

Early Christianity used the forest as a model for their most sacred cathedrals and places of worship, with the repeating columns and low light levels representing a forested canopy to draw people closer to God. In LDS circles, nature can likewise be found. The Conference Center was interestingly built with the goal of having no pillars or columns, and yet the focal point is none other than a walnut tree from the yard of a prophet carved into a beautiful pulpit.

The air quality in Utah often leaves much to be desired.

"If Wasatch Front drivers parked their vehicles for one day per week, emissions would decrease by 6,500 tons each year." (DAQ Mobile Source)

According to the American Lung Association "Health effects of ozone and air pollution in children are striking. A study on long-term effects of air pollution in teenagers showed the average drop in lung function was 20% below expected rates - similar to the impact of growing up in a home with parents who smoke." (American Lung Association)

One thing the Church has done to help alleviate this is by utilizing the small temple concept, which provides reduced travel, reduced costs, reduced building size, increased site possibilities, lower operating costs due to reduced hours, and fewer volunteers needed since no laundry facilities are provided. All of this ultimately results in a lower carbon footprint for the Church.

I don't have any hard data, but since more than half the church resides outside of the United States, lets assume that prior to the small temple concept, most members lived a good distance from a temple. Even growing up in California, we were 3 hours from the nearest temple, or about 150 miles. If we assume 1 million members visit the temple twice a year, and had to travel an average of 300 miles round trip, this alone is a carbon footprint of 320,000 metric tons of CO2 (assuming 17 mpg which is the nationwide avg), totalling $3.8 million to purchase offsets for the travel and become carbon neutral each year. There are many options, but in this case, the offset purchase would involve a reforestation of Kenya by planting 320,000 trees. On a churchwide global scale, these numbers can get staggering rather quickly. (images and data from www.carbonfootprint.com)

The LDS Church was honored by the Sierra Club two years ago for the City Creek Center as part of a communities of faith report entitled “Faith in Action: Communities of Faith Bring Hope for the Planet.”

“City Creek Reserve, Inc. (CCRI), a real estate development arm of the church, is directing the construction of a transit-oriented, 20-acre mixed use project which will include residential, retail and office space. The results from this smart growth strategy will greatly reduce Salt Lake City's dependence on the automobile.”

More than half of the demolition debris is being recycled and only native plant species will be used for landscaping.

"CCRI Director Bill Williams says long term sustainability is central to the project. ‘As you look at the tenets of our religion, there is a notion that we must be good stewards in all that we do,’ explains Williams. ‘It is our hope that this project will be prosperous, while standing true to our values of wise stewardship and giving back to the community.’ Williams and the CCRI designers hope this project will be a catalyst for further neighborhood redevelopment, noting that it allows residents and visitors to celebrate the unique natural beauty and rich history of Salt Lake City."

If we could listen to the earth speaking to us, what do you suppose she would say? Enoch provides an answer in the book of Moses, “Enoch looked upon the earth; and he heard a voice from the bowels thereof, saying: Wo, wo is me, the mother of men; I am pained, I am weary, because of the wickedness of my children. When shall I rest, and be cleansed from the filthiness which is gone forth out of me?” (Moses 7:48)

Swimming in a mountain lake, walking through a forest, feeling the earth in our hands while working on a garden. These experiences and thousands of others we have hopefully on a daily basis portray our interactions with the very earth that our bodies are made from. What is our impact on the planet? What types of traces do we leave behind? How do we account for the natural resources we utilize? These all represent how ‘in touch’ we are with the natural world. “Touch is the direct experience of resistance, the direct experience of the world as a system of resistances and pressures that persuade us of the existence of a reality independent of our imaginings. To see is not yet to believe: hence Christ offered himself to be touched by the doubting apostle.” Yi-Fi Tuan (Topophilia, page 8)

A building that is in touch with the earth will bring beauty as well into the equation. And beauty, unlike filthiness, is sustainable. Hence, a beautiful building is a sustainable one. If the community doesn't embrace a building, it will not be saved or preserved when the time comes. Unaesthetic buildings will not last and are unsustainable even if they may have a LEED rating...

Mark Miller Toyota, Salt Lake – received the lofty LEED Gold Rating

Unfortunately I will be the first in line to help tear this building down when the time comes. In my opinion very unattractive addition to our city.

On the other hand, the Salt Lake City Public Library - No LEED Rating

Is one of the most beautiful buildings in the state. I will be the first in line to help preserve this building when the time comes.

So which is the more sustainable building?

If all four sides of a building are treated the same, can it be a green building? The south façade of each building receives intense summer light, while the north façade receives no direct daylight in the winter, so how could they possibly be treated the same? In this regard, we still have work to do with our current LDS standard plan meetinghouses. A building that is an extension of and in harmony with the earth is the goal. The challenge with standard plans is they are developed independent of a site. And the site and orientation is the most important aspect of green building. As you can see here, the most important and highest impact green strategies are also the lowest in cost (passive). Building orientation & massing, improved envelope and structure, daylighting, natural ventilation. Renewable energy systems, like solar panels, are the most expensive and really should be the last thing you look at since they have the lowest impact. (active)

The new Phased Meetinghouse project for the US/Canada I am working on right now allows for the building to grow over time – As it phases, it has been designed to have minimal demolition and waste. Adding on to existing building is much more cost-effective and saves resources. This type of approach has been used for many years internationally in the Church. This building breaks up the large roof from previous designs, has smaller wings formed around a courtyard with smaller massing and opportunities for increased natural light and ventilation – a building that breathes.

Nature is at the center of the building, rather than a basketball court. This open courtyard provides a direct link to the cultural hall for activities, including dances, dinners, teaching, receptions, and other social gatherings. The kitchen and main foyer are directly adjacent as well with easy access. Options may even exist to open up the exterior walls for baptismal seating outdoors. By dividing up the programmatic elements of the building, the classroom wings are separated from the chapel and cultural hall, allowing better flow through the building in an overlapping schedule, as well as greater sound separation. The first of these buildings will be built adjacent to the new Kansas City Temple.

Global warming is real and is one of the most important issues of our day. Species are becoming extinct and the oceans are dying. One of my concerns in discussing this with others is that fear as a motivator doesn’t work well for many. The idea that we are destroying the earth scares people, so they push it away. So I have come up with some other Environmental Motivators that I hope will help to inspire us to action:

Each of these help lead us towards a sustainable society and hopefully will have some place in our lives. Global warming and eco-trendy products seem to get all the coverage. Stewardship and the sacredness of creation rarely make headlines, but they represent a deep level of commitment to important principles. In the end, isn't the most newsworthy report that when millions of people resolve to "rise a little higher, be a little better" (Gordon B Hinckley) all forms of life on the earth will benefit?

So what motivates you? Have you changed any part of your life or habits relating to the environment? If so, what motivated you to make the change?

David O Mckay said,
"We have heard much about the necessity of conservation. We have been admonished to conserve our resources. Economy and thrift are fundamentals in the social organization and in the teachings of this Church. Conservation and care are in keeping with the example which Jesus gave his disciples. You remember on one occasion he fed the multitude, after which he said,'...Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.'" (John 6:12.)

At the outset, building and construction may seem antithetical to sustainability and environmentalism, since purposefully altering ecosystems is such a shock to the natural world. Some plant and animal species will probably die; others, who previously struggled, may thrive. When an ecological system is restored through intervention, it is never the same as before. The original condition is always impossible to reach.

The allegory of the olive trees speaks of the grafting of branches back into the vineyard. As such, the restored vineyard never returns to its original form, but the end goal is met, fruit "like unto the natural fruit."

The eventual goal of restoration in both ecological terms and the Gospel is regeneration; a stabilized system with life giving processes; completely sustainable and life producing. If you can do it forever, it’s sustainable. In the gospel this equates to the resurrection, where a new, eternal life is created and there is no death and no loss of knowledge.

Reductionist thinking (looking at the details and fragments) is common, but is not enough. Zooming back in scale from the details, we can see the big picture where nothing is isolated and all things are connected in a living network. The Restoration of the Gospel is not a series of dates, events, or details. Nor is it a complete compilation, or gathering of words, ideas, or scriptures. The Restoration is nothing less than the complete renewal of all creation including a renewal of the earth (10th Article of Faith) and a "restitution of ALL things." As such, the Restoration is unfinished, and will remain that way until the final Resurrection of all life, including the earth itself, when the wilderness will become "like Eden, and her desert like the garden."(Isa. 51: 3) There will be a "new heaven and a new earth" (Isa. 65: 17 ) When we are involved in this process of Restoration, we add value to the whole system. We are literally involved in the development of new and sustaining life.

Dr. Lowry Nelson of the U S A C in Logan in 1936 said,
"I am not at all fatalistic about the future. On the contrary, I am very hopeful; but I cannot escape the conviction that we need to become revitalized and fired anew with a common objective. That objective I like to think is building the finest civilization that it is within our power to imagine." (The Mormon Village Retrospect and Prospect, Dr. Lowry Nelson, March 1936 Improvement Era)

In 1927, American Fork, Utah was a typical Mormon Village of 3000 people, settled by necessity to be self-sufficient and sustainable. Living in such a way required community, not individual thinking. There used to be a distinct line between the village and the surrounding farmland. Today, there is no distinct line between the urban and rural in American Fork. Everything chaotically blends together. Fortunately, there are communities with tools like the Urban Growth Boundary in Portland, Oregon to help us control and maintain this. UGB is often credited for facilitating the region's compact development pattern, which curbed sprawling habits and preserved the regions natural resources. Even today, there are 15,000 acres of vacant, buildable land within the current urban growth boundary for Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties. This allows ample opportunities for infill. Regardless of where we live, though, we can become involved in our communities to help change the zoning laws so we can decrease urban sprawl, allow for more mixed-use development, increase density and green spaces, preserve more of the natural landscape, and actually live in communities that are walkable and provide easy access to the goods and services that we need.

A truly sustainable building will look and act differently than other buildings. It isn't a matter of putting on some solar panels and LED bulbs, while otherwise building in the same status quo way, and then calling it green. It is more holistic than that. It must be properly oriented to the sun, beautiful, well designed, integral with the site and surroundings. The goal is a self-sustaining entity, or living building. The Cascadia Green Building Council in the Northwest has come up with this challenge which is a performance-based measurement for self-sustaining buildings.

Here are some examples that illustrate a true integration between the earth and our built environment:


These are pioneering projects with goals beyond even those reflected by LEED Platinum status. Net-zero energy are what projects aiming for the Living Building Challenge and the 2030 Challenge are aspiring toward.

Even here in Millcreek, Utah – the first passive house is completing construction. “Passive House consultant Dave Brach, principal of Brach Design Architecture, anticipates receiving a certificate in the next week or so. He designed the Breezeway House to consume only 10% of the energy of an existing single family home of the same size and location and 20% of the energy of a new home built to code. What's more, solar electric and hot water panels should produce about 75% of the home's annual energy needs.”


Spencer W Kimball said,
"We recommend to all people that there be no undue pollution, that the land be taken care of and kept clean, productive, and beautiful."

Several General Authorities have been involved with the preservation of our National Parks, one of whom is Steven E. Snow. Elder Snow was called to the First Quorum of the Seventy in April 2001 and is now in the Presidency of the Seventy. Prior to this, he was quite active in conservation efforts in his home of Southern Utah, including as Board member of the Grand Canyon Trust. He stated:

Hugh Nibley, possibly the most famous environmentalist in the Church, often talked specifically about the pollution in Utah County. He said,

Often we feel chained down and limited in what we can do. Can we really make a difference? Can one person change anything? The tide is coming in and it often feels like we will be swallowed up.

In the book, Can Poetry Save The Earth?: A Field Guide to Nature Poems, John Felstiner "explores the rich legacy of poems that take nature as their subject, and he demonstrates their force and beauty. In our own time of environmental crises, he contends, poetry has a unique capacity to restore our attention to our environment in its imperiled state. And, as we take heed, we may well become better stewards of the earth." On April 13, 2009 NPR issued Felstiner a challenge: "Pick just one poem that could save the world, if everyone were to read it." He chose 'The Well Rising.'

Hannah Arendt in her excellent book 'The Human Condition' stated,

So there are my top 10 arguments for members of the church to be more sustainable. My hope is that some of the ideas presented will translate into each of us living in a more sustainable way. Thank you.


Azúcar said...

Great presentation, very glad you shared it.

One note: I nearly bought a home in Provo five years ago that was built in 1957 by an architect for his family, and it was a passive home (or as much of a passive home as could be built in 1957.)

He angled the house on the lot and adjusted the cantilevered rooflines to shield the summer sun from heating the home and to trap heat from the winter sun. The house was thoughtfully constructed down to the smallest detail: capturing breezes, heating/cooling the living and bedroom spaces separately, built-in slide step stools under every sink to allow children to wash easily, and windows arranged in the kitchen to see every inch of the backyard. I fell head over heels when I walked into the kitchen and found that the architect had scaled it for his wife, who was 5'2", the same as me.

So perhaps the house in Millcreek is the first contemporary passive home, but there are others out there that haven't received quite as much notice.

Daniel H said...

I'm glad you had as many attend as did. I wish more had. Thank you for sharing this, and for the hope you give me through all your posts! (Your optimism is catching...what can I say?)

green mormon architect said...

Thanks Daniel and Azucar. Good point about the passive home. There are probably others out there as well. Any idea if the Provo home you described is still standing? If you recall its location, I'd be interested in checking it out.

CatherineWO said...

This is great. Thank you so much for posting this presentation. You encourage me also.

school architects said...

In most cases, when a new building or home is constructed, the land is detracted from in some way and impacted harmfully. Green architecture strives to impact the surrounding land as minimally as possible and in some cases improve the land if possible. Architectural firms have developed over the last few years that are dedicated to green design.