Paul Hutton, our Chief Sustainability Officer, provides some insight on how he hopes the current situation will push us to continue to improve our internal operations and design the built environment in the future to reduce our carbon footprint:
How much has Cuningham Group’s carbon footprint been reduced as a result of current conditions? Any energy savings happening in our offices are being offset by slight increases in energy use in all our homes. Our paper use has dropped to almost nothing, accounting for 2% of our footprint. The big reduction for Cuningham Group is transportation. As we learned from our Carbon Footprint study last year, transportation is 75% of our footprint, including air travel, commuting, rental cars and job site travel. All of that has stopped, so our carbon footprint today is reduced at least 77%. Every week we continue in this mode, we avoid 28 metric tons of CO2e.
There is a new phrase in our vocabulary, “Flattening the Curve,” the effort to reduce the rate of infection due to Coronavirus. China has flattened its curve and in the U.S. the curve is expected to peak in mid-April. A lot of other curves are flattening right now. One of them is the rate of greenhouse gas emissions. We have all seen the photos of clear skies in Chinese cities and clean water in Venetian canals. Even as we fret over economic impacts, the stock market and lost jobs, planet Earth is breathing a sigh of relief.
What happens when the virus is under control? Will we happily resume life and work as they were before and seek to make up for lost time? Will we use as much energy and release as much greenhouse gas as before, or perhaps even more, to make up for lost time? Or will we learn and work to do things better, including how we design the built environment? Here’s my list of what I hope we will do differently at Cuningham Group after the Coronavirus pandemic:
- Steadily reduce and offset the carbon footprint of our internal operations until we can say we are a net zero company.
- Hit the 2030 targets for our entire portfolio of projects by 2025 and continue on the road to full net zero by 2030.
- Analyze and then reduce the embodied carbon in our new building construction and renovations.
- Design to preserve, include and respect nature on every project site.
- Travel less for work, including air, commuting and job sites.
George Price, a physician at the turn of the last century, called the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic a “destroyer and teacher.” I sincerely hope Coronavirus will teach us to be better stewards of the Earth.
Paul Hutton, FAIA, NCARB, LEED AP® BD+C
Paul is a Principal of Cuningham Group and has dedicated his career to integrating sustainable building strategies with creative design. He is a recognized expert in sustainable schools and daylighting, using it as a primary tool to reduce energy use and to improve occupant well-being in all his projects.