The Auto Industry and Climate Change in the US

by Abigail Schantz

The history of the automobile industry, in many respects, illustrates the progression of society’s perception and response to climate change. Caetano C.R. Penna and Frank W. Geels compare the progression of climate change from 1979 to 2012 using the Dialectic Issue LifeCycle (DILC) model in Climate change and the slow reorientation of the American car industry (1979–2012): An application and extension of the Dialectic Issue LifeCycle (DILC) model. The DILC classifies the progression of an issue into five major stages. In the first stage, the problem emerges, generally due to activist groups, and the affected industry rejects the issue and downplays its importance. During this stage, there is little progression in changing technologies. In the second stage, public concern begins to increase as activists generate social movements. Public agendas address the issue and policymakers create committees to study it, although this action is mainly symbolic. In the third stage, rising public concern spurs political debates, leading to formal hearings and investigations. The industry argues for voluntary implementation of solutions and attempts to show that the costs and technical complexity of rapid change make radical solutions impossible. Meanwhile, firms in the industry often take defensive measures, privately exploring solutions in laboratories. In the fourth stage, policies begin to be implemented through legislation. Suppliers and others that support the industry begin to develop technology while the industry itself actively argues against the new policies. At the same time, industry firms begin to invest in alternative technologies and embrace them more publicly in order to maintain the company image. This often leads to an innovation race. Finally, in the fifth phase, a new market emerges due to changes in mainstream consumer preferences and/or because regulators impose taxes or incentives, or other legislation causes a shift in economic conditions. To bolster the public image of the company, most address the problem in the company’s beliefs and mission. Continue reading

Reducing the Environmental Impact through Building Certifications: LEED, ASHRAE, and IGCC.

by Abigail Schantz 

Sangwon Suh, Shivira Tomar, Matthew Leighton, and Joshua Kneifel (2014) analyzed the environmental benefits to be gained from three major building certification systems: LEED, ASHRAE, and IgCC. The final analysis showed that GBCC-compliant buildings reduce environmental impacts in major categories by 15%–25%. But, because LEED permits consumers to selectively choose which measures to adopt rather than maintaining strict baseline requirements, it is possible for a LEED certified building to show no reduction. The estimates also assumed proper use of the buildings, whereas after construction, occupants’ behavior can significantly decrease the reduction potential. The authors concluded that overall, with 40% of US energy consumption stemming from buildings, a 15-25% reduction can have a major impact and, therefore, implementing these certification systems should be seriously considered.

It is currently estimated that 40% of United States energy consumption comes from residential and commercial buildings. Efforts to reduce the environmental effects of this consumption include making changes in materials, building structure, uses of insulation, and more. There are already numerous efforts to do this, as demonstrated by the 44,270 LEED-certified projects in the US as of August 2013. In this article, the authors did not attempt to determine the best system but rather used Green Building Code and Certification (GBCC) as a standard basis for reviewing the three. As a base model, the researchers used the life cycle assessment (LCA) developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and a model building from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). GBCC used both inputs (materials, services, etc.) and outputs (waste, emissions, pollutants, etc.) to quantify and generate life cycle inventories (LCIs) for all three systems, as well as for a baseline building. The baseline building, a 3-story office building, which is consistent with the national average for office buildings, was estimated to emit 9.9 tons of C02-equiv/per square meter. Bills of Materials (BoM), comprehensive inventories of all products needed in construction, were also generated for all four buildings (baseline, and three GBCCs). The three systems all involve similar requirements, with slight variations. LEED is a voluntary program that assigns points to various potential features, allowing consumers to choose any number of options for impact reduction so long as the total number of points meets certification requirements. ASHRAE and IgCC both use minimum requirements that all buildings must include, as well as supplemental options. These two systems can be either offered as voluntary opt-in strategies or adopted by local governments as building requirements. The quantifiable components used in the LCA do not encompass all benefits or faults of the buildings, but this study ignored these variations because they currently cannot be measured. The unmeasured factors include, though are not limited to, indoor pollutants, light pollution, and improvements in occupants’ productivity. The buildings were analyzed at three stages: preoccupancy (construction), occupancy (use), and post-occupancy (end-of-life, demolition). Results were analyzed for twelve categories: global warming; acidification; human health-criteria pollutants; eutrophication; ozone layer depletion; smog formation; ecological toxicity; human health-cancer (HHC), human health-noncancer, primary energy, land use, and water consumption. Due to the large number of assumptions made in order to analyze the data generally, the team conducted an analysis to determine how responsive each result was to slight alterations in the unmeasured variables. The authors noted that a small number of the inputs represent a large share of the LCI while the majority have negligible effects. For example, of the 380 inputs measured, 13 comprise 99% of the HHC impact.

Suh, S., Tomar, S., Leighton, M., Kneifel, J., 2014. Environmental Performance of Green Building Code and Certification Systems. Environmental Science & Technology. DOI:10.1021/es4040792


A House Without an Energy Bill

by Abigail Schantz 

In his article “Let There Be Light” in the January 2015 edition of the Economist, Edward Lucas uses the example of a particular energy-efficient house to illustrate his argument that forces affecting the energy market are currently pushing it in the direction of cleaner and more available energy. Coal, now the cheapest and most prominent fossil fuel, is also the dirtiest, and a major contributor of CO2 emissions. Geopolitical events and price collusion make oil supplies unstable, and both natural gas and nuclear power spark intense political debates. Continue reading

Evaluating the Environmental Impact of the California High-Speed Rail

by Abigail Schantz

Chester and Horvath from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UC Berkeley determined that a life-cycle environmental inventory was necessary to fully understand the pros and cons of the proposed project. The life-cycle environmental inventory reviews emissions resulting from use of this transportation method as well as the environmental costs of building and maintenance. Presently, people traveling in this corridor rely most heavily on automobiles, secondarily on airplanes, and lastly on heavy rail transit. Because we are unable to predict the precise usage of a high-speed rail system, when comparing the environmental impacts of each of these modes of travel, it is critical to take into account differences between low-demand and high-demand scenarios, and to account for an expected initial transition period of low-usage.  Continue reading