The Environmental Value of Building Reuse

A report produced by the Preservation Green Lab of the National Trust for Historic Preservation provides the most comprehensive analysis to date of the potential environmental benefit of building reuse.
This groundbreaking study, The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse, concludes that, when comparing buildings of equivalent size and function, building reuse almost always offers environmental savings over demolition and new construction.

The report’s key findings offer policy-makers, building owners, developers, architects and engineers compelling evidence of the merits of reusing existing buildings as opposed to tearing them down and building new.

Those findings include:

  • Reuse Matters. Building reuse typically offers greater environmental savings than demolition and new construction. It can take between 10 to 80 years for a new energy efficient building to overcome, through efficient operations, the climate change impacts created by its construction. The study finds that the majority of building types in different climates will take between 20-30 years to compensate for the initial carbon impacts from construction.
  • Scale Matters. Collectively, building reuse and retrofits substantially reduce climate change impacts. Retrofitting, rather than demolishing and replacing, just 1% of the city of Portland’s office buildings and single family homes over the next ten years would help to meet 15% of their county’s total CO2 reduction targets over the next decade.
  • Design Matters. The environmental benefits of reuse are maximized by minimizing the input of new construction materials. Renovation projects that require many new materials can reduce or even negate the benefits of reuse.
  • The Bottom Line: Reusing existing buildings is good for the economy, the community and the environment. At a time when our country’s foreclosure and unemployment rates remain high, communities would be wise to reinvest in their existing building stock. Historic rehabilitation has a thirty-two year track record of creating 2 million jobs and generating $90 billion in private investment. Studies show residential rehabilitation creates 50% more jobs than new construction.

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New ecovillage will be located 10 minutes west of Chapel Hill, pending approval by the county

By Elizabeth Straub | The Daily Tar Heel

Christian Stalberg is seeking residents to create an ecovillage — a community that would share common land, farm organically, use its own currency and be located about 10 minutes west of Chapel Hill.

Stalberg said he hopes to begin construction on a community that would house up to 100 people on 100 acres of land in the Efland area by the end of the year, after clearing the project with the county.

The community would use little energy, provide affordable housing and make decisions based on general consensus, he said. It would also use environmentally and socially healthy practices to create a sustainable way of life.

“It’s also an effort at replacing the alienation of our common society where you don’t know your neighbor,” he said.

While the community will be new, it is not the area’s first intentional community — a group formed on purpose by people who share common values.

Arcadia Cohousing, a community in Carrboro, was also created by people who agreed to work together toward a common goal.

“Here in our Arcadia community, our focus is around learning how to be a good neighbor and learning to share resources,” said Becky Laskody, an Arcadia resident.

The group that formed Arcadia was created in 1991 and built its community on 16.5 acres in 1994.

Arcadia Cohousing is a pedestrian-oriented residential cohousing community on 16 areas about three miles from the towns of Carrboro and Chapel Hill. “It’s a really great place for kids because its safe… They know everyone so they feel comfortable,” Elisabeth Curtis said. Curtis has lived in the community since it began in 1996.

Instead of the traditional neighborhood road, a central sidewalk connects houses in Arcadia, leads to a community garden and passes by a common house — complete with kitchen, library, and guest rooms. Some houses are joined and all are located close together.

Stalberg said if approved and built, the ecovillage will contain similar features, including a common house with community resources, and will also raise organic crops and livestock to feed residents.

“We would like the ecovillage to be as food self-sufficient as possible,” he said.

Stalberg said the community would use natural materials and energy-efficient methods to construct homes ranging from 100 to 400 square feet­ .

Arcadia was also designed with the environment in mind, providing access to solar power and protecting the surrounding woods, Laskody said.

“It’s also important for folks to see that there are different ways to create neighborhoods,” she said. “We don’t have to stick with the usual model that developers offer.”

Like the planned ecovillage, Arcadia uses a democratic decision-making process that allows all residents to get involved. While residents may abstain from voting, those who participate in voting must all be in accord for the decision to stand.

Steven Fisher, an Arcadia resident, said he values Arcadia’s respect for privacy and of the individual’s choice to get involved in the decision-making process.

Fisher joined Arcadia because his wife had multiple sclerosis and needed a house to fit her needs.

“I was interested in having the opportunity to design a house that would suit her,” he said.

Elisabeth Curtis, another resident, joined partly to participate in a social experiment — to see if people can live so close to one another.

“If we can’t do it here, what hope is there for the rest of the world?” she said.

Laskody added that living in an intentional community helps develop interdependence.

“Though it takes extra work … you gain a lot from the sharing that you do with other people.”

Contact the City Editor


Published January 29, 2012 in City

Intentional Community: 

The Organic Elite Surrenders to Monsanto: What Now?

In the wake of a 12-year battle to keep Monsanto's Genetically Engineered (GE) crops from contaminating the nation's 25,000 organic farms and ranches, America's organic consumers and producers are facing betrayal. A self-appointed cabal of the Organic Elite, spearheaded by Whole Foods Market, Organic Valley, and Stonyfield Farm, has decided it's time to surrender to Monsanto. Top executives from these companies have publicly admitted that they no longer oppose the mass commercialization of GE crops, such as Monsanto's controversial Roundup Ready alfalfa, and are prepared to sit down and cut a deal for "coexistence" with Monsanto and USDA biotech cheerleader Tom Vilsack.

In a cleverly worded, but profoundly misleading email sent to its customers last week, Whole Foods Market, while proclaiming their support for organics and "seed purity," gave the green light to USDA bureaucrats to approve the "conditional deregulation" of Monsanto's genetically engineered, herbicide-resistant alfalfa.  Beyond the regulatory euphemism of "conditional deregulation," this means that WFM and their colleagues are willing to go along with the massive planting of a chemical and energy-intensive GE perennial crop, alfalfa; guaranteed to spread its mutant genes and seeds across the nation; guaranteed to contaminate the alfalfa fed to organic animals; guaranteed to lead to massive poisoning of farm workers and destruction of the essential soil food web by the toxic herbicide, Roundup; and guaranteed to produce Roundup-resistant superweeds that will require even more deadly herbicides such as 2,4 D to be sprayed on millions of acres of alfalfa across the U.S.

In exchange for allowing Monsanto's premeditated pollution of the alfalfa gene pool, WFM wants "compensation." In exchange for a new assault on farmworkers and rural communities (a recent large-scale Swedish study found that spraying Roundup doubles farm workers' and rural residents' risk of getting cancer), WFM expects the pro-biotech USDA to begin to regulate rather than cheerlead for Monsanto. In payment for a new broad spectrum attack on the soil's crucial ability to provide nutrition for food crops and to sequester dangerous greenhouse gases (recent studies show that Roundup devastates essential soil microorganisms that provide plant nutrition and sequester climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases), WFM wants the Biotech Bully of St. Louis to agree to pay "compensation" (i.e. hush money) to farmers "for any losses related to the contamination of his crop."

In its email of Jan. 21, 2011 WFM calls for "public oversight by the USDA rather than reliance on the biotechnology industry," even though WFM knows full well that federal regulations on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) do not require pre-market safety testing, nor labeling; and that even federal judges have repeatedly ruled that so-called government "oversight" of Frankencrops such as Monsanto's sugar beets and alfalfa is basically a farce. At the end of its email, WFM admits that its surrender to Monsanto is permanent: "The policy set for GE alfalfa will most likely guide policies for other GE crops as well  True coexistence is a must."

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Local Ecovillage Currently Forming, Now Recruiting Members

Carolina Common Well, a forming ecovillage located approximately 10-15 minutes west of Chapel Hill/Carrboro, seeks people with appropriate skill sets and resources to join as founding members. The ecovillage seeks to incorporate permaculture and other principles of biological harmony and sustainability. Of the over 100 acre parcel that has been identified, the community will own between 20 and 30 acres with the remainder being placed in a working woodland and farmland trust.

For more information visit Carolina Common Well.

Organic Farms in Mexico Challenge Sustainability

Organic Agriculture May Be Outgrowing Its Ideals
Published: December 30, 2011

Planting the Beach: American demand for year-round organic fruits and vegetables has incited a farming boom in the arid deserts of the Baja Peninsula in Mexico.

Bill McKibben speaking in Raleigh, NC

WWF: Governments fail on ambition, courage at UN climate change talks

Durban, South Africa -- After two weeks of sparring and a day-long extension, governments once again failed today to provide the inspiration and ambition to tackle climate change and provide hope for hundreds of millions around the world who suffer and will continue to suffer from climate-related impacts.

Governments reached a weak agreement that established a Green Climate Fund with little money, postponed major decisions on the content of the Kyoto Protocol, and made an unclear commitment to a global agreement from 2020 that could leave us legally bound to 4 degrees of global warming.

Samantha Smith, leader of WWF’s global climate and energy initiative issued the following statement:

“Governments did just enough to keep talking, but their job is to protect their people. They failed to do that here in Durban today. Science tells us that we need to act right now – because the extreme weather, droughts and heat waves caused by climate change will get worse.

“But it is clear today that the mandates of a few political leaders have outweighed the concerns of millions, leaving people and the natural world we depend on at risk. Catastrophe is a strong word but it is not strong enough for a future with 4 degrees of warming.

“Unfortunately, governments here have spent the last two crucial final days of negotiations focused on only a handful of specific words in the negotiating texts, instead of spending their political capital on committing to more and real action to address climate change.

“Some countries here, like the United States, showed they were not interested in supporting an ambitious outcome in Durban. The US -- afraid of the politics at home – fought over a few words, but missed the bigger story: limiting dangerous climate change.

“Overall, the responsibility for this lies with a handful of entrenched governments – like the US, Japan, Russia, and Canada – who have consistently resisted raising the level of ambition on climate change. This is what brought us to this point.

“One crumb of comfort in Durban has been the emergence of a large group of high ambition countries, led by the most vulnerable nations and small island states, including many in Africa.

“We can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing, or we’re going to choke on our own carbon and run out of natural resources – and that means we won’t have food, water and energy for all.”

“We know climate change is a global problem and it needs a global response. This process didn’t deliver that today, but that doesn’t mean the global fight to tackle climate change has stopped, both within this process and outside of it.”

full article

Biggest jump ever seen in global warming gases

By SETH BORENSTEIN - AP Science Writer | AP – Fri, Nov 4, 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) — The global output of heat-trapping carbon dioxide jumped by the biggest amount on record, the U.S. Department of Energy calculated, a sign of how feeble the world's efforts are at slowing man-made global warming.

The new figures for 2010 mean that levels of greenhouse gases are higher than the worst case scenario outlined by climate experts just four years ago.

"The more we talk about the need to control emissions, the more they are growing," said John Reilly, co-director of MIT's Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change.

The world pumped about 564 million more tons (512 million metric tons) of carbon into the air in 2010 than it did in 2009. That's an increase of 6 percent. That amount of extra pollution eclipses the individual emissions of all but three countries — China, the United States and India, the world's top producers of greenhouse gases.

It is a "monster" increase that is unheard of, said Gregg Marland, a professor of geology at Appalachian State University, who has helped calculate Department of Energy figures in the past.

Extra pollution in China and the U.S. account for more than half the increase in emissions last year, Marland said.

"It's a big jump," said Tom Boden, director of the Energy Department's Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center at Oak Ridge National Lab. "From an emissions standpoint, the global financial crisis seems to be over."

Boden said that in 2010 people were traveling, and manufacturing was back up worldwide, spurring the use of fossil fuels, the chief contributor of man-made climate change.

India and China are huge users of coal. Burning coal is the biggest carbon source worldwide and emissions from that jumped nearly 8 percent in 2010.

"The good news is that these economies are growing rapidly so everyone ought to be for that, right?" Reilly said Thursday. "Broader economic improvements in poor countries has been bringing living improvements to people. Doing it with increasing reliance on coal is imperiling the world."

In 2007, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its last large report on global warming, it used different scenarios for carbon dioxide pollution and said the rate of warming would be based on the rate of pollution. Boden said the latest figures put global emissions higher than the worst case projections from the climate panel. Those forecast global temperatures rising between 4 and 11 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century with the best estimate at 7.5 degrees.

Even though global warming skeptics have attacked the climate change panel as being too alarmist, scientists have generally found their predictions too conservative, Reilly said. He said his university worked on emissions scenarios, their likelihood, and what would happen. The IPCC's worst case scenario was only about in the middle of what MIT calculated are likely scenarios.

Chris Field of Stanford University, head of one of the IPCC's working groups, said the panel's emissions scenarios are intended to be more accurate in the long term and are less so in earlier years. He said the question now among scientists is whether the future is the panel's worst case scenario "or something more extreme."

"Really dismaying," Granger Morgan, head of the engineering and public policy department at Carnegie Mellon University, said of the new figures. "We are building up a horrible legacy for our children and grandchildren."

But Reilly and University of Victoria climate scientist Andrew Weaver found something good in recent emissions figures. The developed countries that ratified the 1997 Kyoto Protocol greenhouse gas limiting treaty have reduced their emissions overall since then and have achieved their goals of cutting emissions to about 8 percent below 1990 levels. The U.S. did not ratify the agreement.

In 1990, developed countries produced about 60 percent of the world's greenhouse gases, now it's probably less than 50 percent, Reilly said.

"We really need to get the developing world because if we don't, the problem is going to be running away from us," Weaver said. "And the problem is pretty close from running away from us."



Government carbon dioxide info center:


Who’s causing the environmental crisis: 7 billion or the 1%?

October 26, 2011 -- Grist via Climate and Capitalism, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission -- Ironically, while populationist groups focus attention on the 7 billion, protesters in the worldwide Occupy movement have identified the real source of environmental destruction: not the 7 billion, but the 1%

This article, published today on the environmental website Grist, has provoked a vigorous discussion there. Many of the comments defend variations of the “consumer sovereignty” argument,  that corporations only destroy the environment in order to provide the products and services consumers demand. We encourage readers to join that conversation.

* * *

By Ian Angus and Simon Butler

The United Nations says that the world’s population will reach 7 billion people this month.

The approach of that milestone has produced a wave of articles and opinion pieces blaming the world’s environmental crises on overpopulation. In New York’s Times Square, a huge and expensive video declares that “human overpopulation is driving species extinct”. In London’s busiest Underground stations, electronic poster boards warn that 7 billion is ecologically unsustainable.

In 1968, Paul Ehrlich’s bestseller The Population Bomb declared that as a result of overpopulation, “the battle to feed humanity is over” and the 1970s would be a time of global famines and ever-rising death rates. His predictions were all wrong, but four decades later his successors still use Ehrlich’s phrase — too many people! — to explain
environmental problems.

But most of the 7 billion are not endangering the Earth. The majority of the world’s people don’t destroy forests, don’t wipe out endangered species, don’t pollute rivers and oceans, and emit essentially no greenhouse gases.

Even in the rich countries of the global North, most environmental destruction is caused not by individuals or households, but by mines, factories and power plants run by corporations that care more about profit than about humanity’s survival.

No reduction in US population would have stopped BP from poisoning the Gulf of Mexico last year. Lower birthrates won’t shut down Canada’s tar sands, which Bill McKibben has justly called one of the most staggering crimes the world has ever seen.

Universal access to birth control should be a fundamental human right — but it would not have prevented Shell’s massive destruction of ecosystems in the Niger River delta, or the immeasurable damage that Chevron has caused to rainforests in Ecuador.

Ironically, while populationist groups focus attention on the 7 billion, protesters in the worldwide Occupy movement have identified the real source of environmental destruction: not the 7 billion, but the 1%, the handful of millionaires and billionaires who own more, consume more, control more and destroy more than all the rest of us put together.

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The Down Side of Plastics


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