Amid a week of disappointing environmental news, some bright spots

Everything each of us does depends on the continued health of our planet. Unfortunately, the headlines from this past week indicate that our planet’s climate is changing in ways that aren’t for the best: scientists are predicting rising seas from “unavoidable” polar melt that will impact coastal cities, and a report by a government-funded research group warned of U.S. national security risks from higher sea levels, increased droughts and other climate-induced changes.

Even worse, Congress recently has been unable to act to protect our environment. Just this week, the bipartisan Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act died in the Senate, despite what news reports say was widespread bipartisan support – at least until the end. This common-sense measure – introduced by Senators Rob Portman and Jeanne Shaheen – involved common-sense provisions to curtail energy usage, such as strengthened building energy codes and incentives for the purchase of energy-efficient equipment. And such states as Ohio and Louisiana are fighting the LEED rating system that also works to improve building energy efficiency. All this at a time when simple population growth would seem to indicate that conservation is our best way to ensure a sustainable future for generations. 

Deep Green Society

Fortunately, there’s good reason to be optimistic about helping the Earth and lowering energy use, thanks to the efforts of the private sector and other states. Despite attempts to ban or weaken it, LEED is becoming more and more an integral part of the world’s buildings. Five buildings have achieved full certification under the stringent Living Building Challenge green building rating system, which requires net zero energy and water use. (Among these is the Skanska-built Bertschi School Science Classroom Addition in Seattle.) Next week, progressive-minded green thinkers will gather in my hometown of Portland, Ore., for the Living Future unConference to help green building continue to move forward.

Some states are realizing that acting on climate and energy can’t wait. Last year, the leaders of British Columbia, California, Oregon and Washington joined together to form the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy, a major effort to combat climate change and promote clean energy. And this month, Skanska became the first company to sign on to the Oregon Climate Leadership Declaration, an effort to reduce fossil fuel use while investing in homegrown resources and technologies that create jobs for Oregonians.

Too often the discussion about environmental practices becomes divisive – a debate over climate change and cap-and-trade. This is counterproductive. If you like lower energy bills, you have all the reason you need to support using less energy. If you believe a strong economy comes from growth, you have all the belief you need to support water conservation for, without enough water, there can be no growth.

So why take a side when you can simply take action? There’s much work to be done developing the technology, the policies and the support for a green, economically-sound future that would benefit us all. We’d appreciate your help.

Steve Clem

Steve Clem

Skanska USA Vice president of preconstruction

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