Meeting of the Minds took a few moments to talk with Herrie Schalekamp about new working relationships between researchers and paratransit operators in South Africa and beyond. Herrie is the ACET Research Officer at the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Transport Studies. In addition to his research, teaching and consulting in the fields of paratransit and public transport reform he is involved in specialised educational programmes for paratransit operators and government officials. Herrie’s activities form part of a broader endeavour to investigate and contribute to improved public transport operations and regulation in Sub-Saharan African cities under ACET – the African Centre of Excellence for Studies in Public and Non-motorised Transport.
Silicon Valley is Incorporating Health into Green Building Design
For the Millennial employee, working at a mission-driven company is just as important as a steady paycheck. In the Bay Area, where the concerns for environmental and social sustainability run deep, this is even more so the case. In order for top companies in Silicon Valley to stay competitive, sustainability has become embedded into tech organizations, especially when it comes to Green Building. With a track record for innovation, the influence of Silicon Valley Tech companies has propelled Green Building Design to the next level.
As of 2012, according to Green Source, over 100 buildings in Silicon Valley were LEED certified as compared to only a few in 2006. This list includes Google, Facebook, Intuit, Yahoo, Adobe, Skype, and the highly anticipated Apple Campus in Cupertino set to be completed in 2016, which is expected to generate on-site renewable energy. Similarly, Green Buildings NYC listed tech companies’ environmental image as one of the top 5 issues for tech companies leasing office space. With LEED Certification becoming the norm for tech companies, the question is, what comes after LEED?
That question has been answered by the Northern California Chapter of the US Green Building Council (USGBC – NCC), home to Silicon Valley companies, in one of their cutting-edge initiatives of 2013: the Building Health Initiative. The Building Health Initiative addresses the impact of the built material environment on human health. Already, influential tech organizations in Silicon Valley are blazing the trail on this initiative, with Adobe, Google, Facebook, Salesforce, and Genentech included in the 30 founding members. The Building Health Initiative aims to “drive demand for products, buildings, and communities, to support improved human and global health.” This imitative is monumental in that it merges corporate silos of building management, material sourcing, and employee health and wellness. It creates dialogue between departments to address key factors of building design that impact health but may not have previously been acted upon.
The link between the built environment and health is not a new concept. The US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) released a whitepaper on Sick Building Syndrome back in 1991. Sick Building Syndrome responds to acute illnesses caused by inadequate ventilation, outdoor pollution, biological contaminants such as mold and most disturbingly, chemical contaminants that create indoor pollution that the EPA outlines as, “adhesives, carpeting, upholstery, manufactured wood products, copy machines, pesticides, and cleaning agents may emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including formaldehyde …Research shows that some VOCs can cause chronic and acute health effects at high concentrations, and some are known carcinogens. Low to moderate levels of multiple VOCs may also produce acute reactions.” Despite awareness of the harmful health effects of common building materials, many are still used in products today.
In response to Sick Building Syndrome is the Living Building Challenge’s material “Red List,” outlining materials that are harmful to human health and the environment. The Living Building Challenge was developed in the mid-1990’s as the most advanced sustainable building design and published its first standard in 2006. In this realm as well, we see tech companies taking the lead in steering clear of these materials such as Google’s Healthy Material’s Program. While programs such as this require up-front investment to rid the office environment of toxic chemicals or to source alternative materials, it also has the potential for long-term health savings, yet again tying together health and green building design.
There is a much larger implication of tech companies integrating health with Green Building Design. Workers spend the majority of waking hours in the office and are affected by the materials inhaled and the physical properties of the chairs, desks, and carpet that come in contact with their skin. For Silicon Valley (with a full time employee headcount close to 300,000 people) to take the lead on removing harmful materials from the built environment signifies that the rest of the country will follow suit. This could set precedence for new office building development and move the needle on improving the health of our country.
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Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
Brownfields are sites that are vacant or underutilized due to environmental contamination, real or imagined. There are brownfields of some kind in virtually every city and town in the U.S., usually related to a gas station, dry cleaner, auto repair shop, car dealership or some other ubiquitous local business that once benefited the community it now burdens with environmental hazards or old buildings.
In addressing this issue, technology has not been effectively deployed to promote redevelopment of these sites and catalyze community revitalization. We find that the question around the use of technology and data in advancing the redevelopment of brownfields is twofold:
How can current and future technology advancements be applied to upgrade existing brownfield modeling tools? And then, how can those modeling tools be used to accelerate transformative, sustainable, and smart redevelopment and community revitalization?
Across the country, urban parks are enjoying a renaissance. Dozens of new parks are being built or restored and cities are being creative about how and where they are located. Space under highways, on old rail infrastructure, reclaimed industrial waterfronts or even landfills are all in play as development pressure on urban land grows along with outdoor recreation needs.
These innovative parks are helping cities face common challenges, from demographic shifts, to global competitiveness to changing climate conditions. Mayors and other city officials are taking a fresh look at parks to improve overall community health and sense of place, strengthen local economies by attracting new investments and creating jobs, help manage storm water run-off, improve air quality, and much more. When we think of city parks holistically, accounting for their full role in communities, they become some of the smartest investments we can make.