The beauty of renovation is more than skin-deep

By Catherine

Written by Catherine Bolgar*

Renovating and retrofitting existing buildings can increase their longevity, reduce their energy use and beautify or modernize.

Building renovation

With commercial buildings that need renovation, “usually the target is to have a result that’s aesthetically nice, healthy and at the least cost,” says Marc LaFrance, energy analyst, buildings sector, at the International Energy Agency. “If somebody comes from that approach but says, ‘I want the least-energy-consuming building possible within my budget,’ that would lead to a different set of measures.”

Buildings consume 40% of the world’s primary energy and are responsible for 40% of carbon emissions. Designing new buildings to be both beautiful and energy efficient is great, but new construction is just a tiny share of overall building stock—only 2% in the U.S., for example. Buildings may last from 40 to a couple of hundred years. Their primary uses may change, and even where a house remains a residence or an office an office, the way people use the buildings keeps evolving. Retrofits tend to be “greener” than demolition for new construction.

See a video about Advanced Retrofit and Design Guides from the U.S. Department of Energy:

YouTube Preview Image

The challenge comes in turning a cosmetic facelift into a deeper change that will result in a building that’s more energy efficient, healthier and—in the long run—cheaper to operate.

A deep renovation done all at once can have a big impact on energy savings. “If you do a system-level upgrade, with new insulation in the walls, new windows, new roofing, and at the same time put in new heating and air conditioning, you can significantly reduce the size requirements for the mechanical equipment,” Mr. LaFrance says. “Doing the entire building at the same time can be very economically viable.”

Why don’t more property owners retrofit? “One of the classic barriers to adoption is split incentives,” he adds. “The building owner isn’t occupying the space, so the energy bill is paid by the renter.”

Mandating energy efficiency standards is one way to get incentives aligned. “Anybody who puts in new equipment today is buying something significantly more efficient than 20 years ago,” he says. “There is still room for improvement in that policy.”

Building codes have led to more efficient new construction, but sometimes renovations aren’t held to the same requirements. A roof replacement might not be required to include added insulation that would bring it up to the latest codes for new buildings.

The European Union has set a goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions in the building sector by 2050 to 88%, to 91% of 1990 levels. Key to achieving that goal is “nearly zero-energy buildings,” which not only use renewable energy but also have lower energy needs for heating, cooling and hot water.

Similarly, “net-zero energy” buildings produce as much energy as they use over the course of a year—in other words, their utility bills over a year add up to zero. Only a few buildings are so highly efficient as to fall into this category.

Click here to see a map of net zero buildings around the world

The potential market and payoffs are great. Energy-efficiency retrofits in the U.S. alone could come to $279 billion, generating a 10-year energy saving of over $1 trillion, or a 13% compound annual return on investment. On a different timeline, to 2050, the European Union estimates €937 billion of investment for deep renovation, with net savings of €8.939 trillion.

Here are a few techniques and new technologies for energy-efficient retrofits:

  • Building envelopes: In hot climates, reflective roofs and walls with special coatings or materials can significantly cut the need for air conditioning. Green roofs, which use vegetation to insulate and add beauty, can cut air-conditioning demand 75% in the summer, as well as reduce storm-water run-off. Exterior insulation finishing systems add a layer of insulation to the outside of a building, which is then covered by stucco or other finishes. Integrated façade systems and integrated roof systems place photovoltaic panels over the façade or roof, shading the roof while helping to power the building.
  • Windows: Low-emissivity (low-e) coatings and films on windows block heat—up to 96% of infra-red radiation—without blocking views. Curtains and shades, especially ones with a honeycomb structure, can insulate windows from sunshine, but it’s far more effective to block the sun’s rays outside the window, by using shutters, awnings or overhangs , which allow natural light to come in, but indirectly.
  • Lighting: Since lighting can consume 30% of total energy and since investments pay for themselves in just one to three years, lighting upgrades are a popular first step. New LEDs are replacing inefficient incandescent bulbs, which use only 5% of the electricity they consume as light. Cooler lights mean lower air-conditioning requirements. Better controls and sensors turn on lights when people are around and off when they leave.
  • Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC): With buildings that are sealed more tightly and that use passive techniques to absorb or avoid heat from the sun, depending on the climate, property owners often find they can install much smaller HVAC systems. A building that has uncontrolled air leakage means air is seeping in through “all the cavities of the building, which might be home to insects, or decaying animals,” Mr. LaFrance says. “If you have a tight building and control fresh air with ventilation, it’s much more desirable, not just for energy savings but also for indoor air quality.”

*For more from Catherine, contributors from the Economist Intelligence Unit along with industry experts, join The Future Realities discussion.

Recycling Gets Smarter as Demand Grows and Technology Evolves

By Catherine

Written by Catherine Bolgar

Recycling gets smarterTo understand how recycling will evolve in the future, follow the money.

“The reason recycling happens is because you can make money. Nobody aspires to pick through somebody’s trash. They have to have an economic incentive to do it,” says Adam Minter, author of the book “Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade.” “Good intentions don’t turn old beer cans into new ones. If you want to have a sustainable recycling industry, you have to focus on the economic side of it.”

Recycling revenue in the European Union from seven main categories almost doubled to €60 billion from 2004 to 2008. Recycling revenue fell in 2009 along with the global economic slump as because prices for secondary materials fell but it has since recovered, according to Eurostat.

Recycling isn’t just about the environment—it’s about manufacturing. “The recycling industry is a raw-materials industry,” Mr. Minter says. “It competes with mines, forests, oil drillers.”

Indeed, improving technology now makes it possible to recycle an aluminum can using 95% less energy than to make a new one from raw material.

China is the biggest importer of waste for recycling. While China is a low-cost country, the picture is more complicated—after all, wages in China are about 10 times more than those in India, which imports less waste for recycling. The key is that China, as the world’s largest manufacturing nation, needs the raw materials.

Recycling follows manufacturing. If there isn’t demand for raw materials, recycling isn’t going to happen,” he says. “We’re entering an era of relative resource scarcity. Everything has gone up in price because there are more middle-class people in the world who want more resources. As raw materials become scarcer and more expensive, recycling will grow. If there’s value in something and it can be transported to a recycling plant, it’s being recycled now.”

Take Christmas tree lights, an example Mr. Minter details in his book and one that illustrates how recycling is likely to evolve in the future. The U.S. has many wire recyclers, who reprocess power lines and other kinds of wire, provided it contains at least 80% copper. “Anything below that, they’ll pass on,” Mr. Minter says. “Before China came along, a lot of that would go to a landfill. That includes Christmas tree lights, which are about 28% copper. They’re not as worthwhile to recycle.”

However, in the mid- to late 1980s, scrap yards in the U.S. began collecting Christmas tree lights and sent them to China, eventually exporting 20 million pounds of discarded strings of lights a year. At first, the garlands would be burned to eliminate the insulation and get to the copper. However, after 2007 the price of plastic started to escalate, driven by the price of oil.

Suddenly, it became attractive to recover the insulation. So recyclers changed their methods, chopping up the Christmas tree lights and using water to separate the heavier copper from the glass and plastic. The plastic is recycled into items like soles for bedroom slippers, Mr. Minter says. It’s also used to make new Christmas tree lights.

Developed countries tend to see themselves as dumpers of waste, with poorer countries as the dumpees. However,

Recycle sign

“nothing goes from the U.S. to the developing world to be dumped,” Mr. Minter says. “That electronic waste moving from the U.S. to China is being bought. Somebody does it to make money. The means they use to extract value from it might not be clean. But a lot of that stuff is still legal to dump in a landfill,” which isn’t an environmentally friendly solution either.

The generation of waste also is evolving. Members of the growing middle classes in emerging markets are buying and using technology. In 2012, China generated 7,253 metric kilotonnes of electronic waste, and India 2,751 metric kilotonnes; the U.S. produced 9,359 metric kilotonnes of electronic waste, according to the Solving the E-waste Problem Initiative, a global effort of United Nations organizations.

A discarded computer in the U.S. will be shredded, and magnets and other technology used to pull out what’s valuable—about 40% to 60% of the total. However, in China or other developing countries, hand labor will dissect that computer and pull out more than 90% of it for recycling, Mr. Minter says.

The search for raw materials in waste is likely to become ever more ingenious as demand grows and technology creates new possibilities.

Researchers are working on ways to break down thermosets, a kind of heat-resistant, chemically stable plastic that hasn’t been recyclable. And some companies are recycling plastic back into oil. Meanwhile, researchers in Poland have found a way to recover nickel from spent consumer batteries to be used for electrodes in new batteries.

There are constant improvements in the technology,” Mr. Minter says. “But recycling is not the panacea. It just extends the life of materials a little longer. Eventually you need new materials. If you care about the environment, reduce your consumption and extend the life of what you already have. Once you’ve done that, then recycle.”

For more from Catherine, contributors from the Economist Intelligence Unit along with industry experts, join The Future Realities discussion.

Towards Net Positive Impact: A Glimpse into the Sustainable Future

By Asheen

Corporate Knights Global 100At the World Economic Forum at Davos recently, ratings agency Corporate Knights announced their Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations list from a more than 4,000-company starting universe, and we are excited to be ranked #5. We’re proud of this ranking, but as I’ll explain in this post, we measure our own sustainability progress a bit differently — not as being the most environmentally efficient, as the Global 100 emphasizes, but in being the most sustainably innovative.

This is no sour grapes — we are pretty environmentally efficient. Our high ranking on the Global 100 is based largely on our environmental productivity scores, such as Carbon Productivity, which is a measure of how much revenue we generate per unit of carbon, and the similarly derived Energy Productivity.

Airplane engine exhaust

We enjoy a bit of a sector bump, as software companies generally make a lot of money from limited environmental capital — I often joke that our supply chain consists of electricity and coffee! — but in our case, our Carbon Productivity (revenue per unit carbon) is 75% higher than the next-best software company, and our Energy Productivity is 20% higher. This means that we’re squeezing more value from the environmental resources we consume — which in our case is mainly gasoline, jet fuel and electricity for our travelers and our developers.

But we don’t think this is the end of our story. With more than 175,000 companies designing, engineering, simulating, manufacturing, storing and searching their products on our 3DEXPERIENCE platform, we have the potential to influence a far greater swath of the world’s environmental footprint than that from our own operations. As we build sustainable innovation tools into our Apps and Experiences, these will make the planes you fly in, the vehicles you drive, the clothes you buy and the devices you communicate with more sustainable. Through sustainable innovation, we can “move the needle” on a scale far greater than our own footprint, creating a positive impact that Greg Norris of Harvard University calls a “handprint“.

Handprint

So if our positive handprint outweighs our negative footprint — we’re convinced it does, but we’re doing some work now to back this up — then Dassault Systèmes will be a net positive organization. That is, the world will be better off with our company serving it.

As our CEO Bernard Charlès said in a recent interview, “A product exists within nature, its components come from nature, and it will likely, eventually, decompose back into the natural world.  How much a part of the natural world is it?  How much does creating it, using it, and disposing of it distort or damage the natural world around it?  How much energy does it require across this entire life cycle?  We try to develop solutions to help our customers explore these questions so that they can make the most informed, sustainable decisions possible.”

This is the extent of our sustainable innovation vision: to rank highly not just on sustainable indices, but on the scale of society, the economy, and the biosphere, by helping our customers achieve a positive environmental impact on the planet and grow their own businesses sustainably.

Asheen PhanseyAsheen PHANSEY is Head of Sustainable Innovation Lab for Dassault Systèmes

 



Page 1 of 3123
3ds.com

Beyond PLM (Product Lifecycle Management), Dassault Systèmes, the 3D Experience Company, provides business and people with virtual universes to imagine sustainable innovations. 3DSWYM, 3D VIA, CATIA, DELMIA, ENOVIA, EXALEAD, NETVIBES, SIMULIA and SOLIDWORKS are registered trademarks of Dassault Systèmes or its subsidiaries in the US and/or other countries.