Dick Moe, President of the National Trust made a FANTASTIC speech last night on the occasion of receiving the Vincent Scully Prize at the National Building Museum. The basic point: “Preservation IS Sustainability” This is obvious stuff to those of us who deal with old buildings – they have embodied energy and if we want to slow down climate change, we need to save buildings. Dick had some killer statistics which again are obvious if you think about it. An excerpt from Moe’s speech:
“But according to the EPA, transportation – cars, trucks, trains, airplanes – accounts for just 27% of America‚s greenhouse gas emissions, while 48% – almost twice as much – is produced by the construction and operation of buildings. If you remember nothing else I say tonight, remember this: Nearly half of the greenhouse gases we Americans send into the atmosphere comes from our buildings. In fact, more than 10% of the entire world’s greenhouse gas emissions is produced by America’s buildings – but the current debate on climate change does not come close to reflecting that huge fact. The message is clear: Any solution to climate change must address the need to reduce emissions by being smarter about how we use our buildings and wiser about land use.”
PRESERVATION IS SUSTAINABILITY he said. BRAVO! And then Dick talked about looking at the comparative carbon footprints of old versus new buildings:
“According to a formula produced for the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, about 80 billion BTUs of energy are embodied in a typical 50,000-square-foot commercial building. That‚s the equivalent of 640,000 gallons of gasoline. If you tear the building down, all of that embodied energy is wasted.”
“What’s more, demolishing that same 50,000-square-foot commercial building would create nearly 4,000 tons of waste. That’s enough debris to fill 26 railroad boxcars – that’s a train nearly a quarter of a mile long, headed for a landfill that is already almost full.”
“Once the old building is gone, putting up a new one in its place takes more energy, of course, and it also uses more natural resources and releases new pollutants and greenhouse gases into our environment. Look at all the construction cranes dotting the Washington skyline, and consider this: It is estimated that constructing a new 50,000-square-foot commercial building releases about the same amount of carbon into the atmosphere as driving a car 2.8 million miles.”
“One more point: Since 70% of the energy consumed over a building‚s lifetime is used in the operation of the building, some people argue that all the energy used in demolishing an older building and replacing it is quickly recovered through the increased energy efficiency of the new building – but that’s simply not true. Recent research indicates that even if 40% of the materials are recycled, it takes approximately 65 years for a green, energy-efficient new office building to recover the energy lost in demolishing an existing building. And let’s face it: Most new buildings aren’t designed to last anywhere near 65 years. “
You build a new house and you do more environmental damage than you can undo by never driving a car again.
Then Dick goes after LEED, the admirable system designed to show how green and efficient a building is. BUT IT DOESN”T COUNT RE-USE! D-OH! Here’s what Dick said:
“This emphasis on new construction is completely wrong-headed. The statistics I cited earlier tell us clearly that buildings are the problem – but incredibly, we propose to solve the problem by constructing more and more new buildings while ignoring the ones we already have.”
“Here’s what we have to keep in mind: No matter how much green technology is employed in its design and construction, any new building represents a new impact on the environment. The bottom line is that the greenest building is one that already exists.”
and then the kicker, because the punters always whine about energy efficiency:
“It’s often alleged that historic buildings are energy hogs- but in fact, some older buildings are as energy-efficient as many recently-built ones, including new green buildings. Data from the U.S. Energy Information Agency suggests that buildings constructed before 1920 are actually more energy-efficient than buildings built at any time afterwards – except for those built after 2000. Furthermore, in 1999, the General Services Administration (GSA) examined its buildings inventory and found that utility costs for historic buildings were 27% less than for more modern buildings.”
This is a big no-brainer for anyone with a knowledge of history. ENERGY WAS EXPENSIVE for most of history, hence EVERY VICTORIAN BUILDING WAS DOUBLE-GLAZED. They also had operable upper sashes for cooling. Energy was only cheap for one historical period – 1945-1970 – and that was when inefficient, single-glazed buildings were built. Dick notes this because it is a real challenge for preserving the Recent Past.
Dick winds it up with emphasizing the climate devastation of sprawl, a topic he brought to historic preservation:
“For decades, national, state and local policies have facilitated – even encouraged – the development of new suburbs while leaving existing communities behind. As a result, an ongoing epidemic of sprawl ravages the countryside, devouring open space, consuming resources and demanding new infrastructure. Look at nearby Loudoun County, for example, where pro-growth supervisors have already approved thousands of new homes, and are considering the approval of thousands more, in a semi-rural area underserved by roads and public services. Meanwhile, here in Washington – and in scores of other cities – disinvestment has left viable housing stock abandoned and schools slated for closing in areas where infrastructure is already in place, already paid for.”
Bravo, Dick! This is momentous. Here is a link to the whole speech.
The wheel is in spin, folks, and historic preservation is part of the axle.