Snapshot on Sustainability: USGBC-LA Intern shares his impressions

This is second in the series of USGBC-LA interns sharing their impressions about green buildings. Below are thoughts from Joel Linares who describes himself as a student in progress.

When we think about people, we don’t usually correlate them to emissions. That term is used when defining how much carbon dioxide vehicles emit from burning fuel or the production of exhaust from chemicals that lead to the detriment of our environment. Yet, these emissions are made by humans and are not the only ways that we negatively affect our planet. Since taking part in my internship with USGBC-LA, I’m thinking about how we can reach a sustainable world where we reuse and recycle our resources. To do this, we need to look at all the waste we produce, energy and water consumption, and water we pollute.

The first step is recognizing how difficult it is to change the way we consume our resources. If we think of resource use as an addiction, we realize it’s very difficult to go “cold turkey”. However, small steps or tweaks in the way we live our lives can lead over time to bigger steps toward reaching a sustainable future.

A lesson I learned from listening to others speak about changes in lifestyle goes a long way. Natalie Portman preaches that a vegan lifestyle can negate the effects of damage to our environment. However, she recognizes the change to a vegan diet is a daunting task. Instead, she suggests taking breaks in between the days of the week to restrain yourself from consuming non-vegan products. Even these steps not only build a habit of the vegan lifestyle, but also measurably help reduce the waste and harm that comes from slaughterhouses and related services.

I believe we can use the same principle and relate that to our consumption of other resources. By finding small, measurable ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle in our everyday lives we can reduce the misuse of many resources. For example, we can take care of water leaks and turn off the lights in rooms we are not using. We can go a step further and change the way we commute. There are so many ways to reduce our carbon footprint: carpooling reduces the number of cars on the road, switching to electric vehicles reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and walking or riding a bicycle also gives us some exercise.

These ideas are nothing new. We have all heard about making these changes for years, but we need to make the effort now if we would like to improve our environment. Summers are getting hotter and electricity bills are going up.

Green buildings use fewer natural resources than conventional buildings and therefore help bring down high electricity demand. During the internship we visited Metro Division 13, an incredible facility built using sustainable design principles and responsible use of natural resources. Materials used were regionally sourced or had high recycled content, the facility made use of solar paneling to reduce use of energy, and made use of recycled water to wash the buses.

Using simple techniques like insulation, I realize we can trap the cold air in and keep out the heat. The same can also been done in the winter, to keep in the heat. Using clean power from solar panels or using less power-hungry appliances also brings down demand. The technology used in these green buildings also helps support our economy with green jobs, protect our health and our environment.

We should also retrofit our current buildings to be as sustainable as green buildings, because tearing down existing buildings creates unnecessary waste and removes the evidence of our cultural past. During the internship, we also visited the Ace Hotel, an example of retrofitting an older building. The Ace Hotel accomplished a beautiful goal of preserving, renovating, and retrofitting by working with the City to keep energy consumption down, even on high energy usage days.

Changes in the ways we live and interact can make a huge impact on our environment. Pushing to create more environment-friendly buildings and jobs that support these goals should be the goal for the future. Most important, just being more self-conscious in the way we consume our resources and how we attempt to reduce waste can be most beneficial not only to ourselves but to future generations.

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