Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Moving from Sustainability to Regenerative Design

Today I attended a presentation at the University of Pennsylvania Institute for Environmental Studies given by Keith Bowers of Biohabitats. This is part of a series of presentations provided by Department of Earth and Environmental Science. There is a permanent link to the left University of Penn IES.

Date: November 5, 2008
Time: NOON - 1:30 pm
Place: Carolyn Hoff Lynch Auditorium
On the Penn campus: Chemistry Building; 34 & Spruce St

The presentation description was:

"Do we want to sustain what we have, or shift to a new design paradigm that embraces a world where all our actions facilitate the regeneration of ecological systems, human spirit and human evolution? This new approach begins by understanding how systems of life work in each unique place, how our role in those systems can reinforce life sustaining properties and how we can create a 'riot of reciprocity'."

The presentation started with the current state of affairs on Earth and the need to start doing things differently. There were references to ecological foot prints, historical data of flood event increases, loss of biodiversity, and the increase in extinction events.

The presentation continued with descriptions of sustainability versus regenerative design and the need to move towards regenerative design. It was noted that there is a tradeoff between historical fidelity versus ecological integrity and that in reality we may not be able to go back to what once was however we might be able to go back to a reasonable baseline. Some of the trade criteria mentioned included resiliency, diversity, regenerative, adaptive, and integrity.

The need for this work was put into context by a reference to natural capital and charts that showed the benefits of various activities. The charts indicated that restoring marshes has one of the largest benefits. The economic value placed on restoration was developed by Costanza in 1997.

This all set the stage for what Keith and Biohabitats do for a living. They restore habitats using system engineering principals. Keith showed a brief glimpse of the process used in these efforts. The process considers the community, ecology, and economy. The process includes stakeholders with actions, the creation of a vision, and modeling. The creation of the vision is key to getting the effort on a success track and that vision comes from the stakeholders using a bumper sticker approach and slider exercises where the community responds to questions.

Once the process was described Keith proceeded to give various examples from across the United States of their work. The clients include companies, government, non-profits, and Universities. The end of the presentation had a wonderful visualization of a model that showed the effects of changing various model elements and its impact on the community, sustainability, and regeneration.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

City of Philadelphia Office of Watersheds

Today I attended a presentation at the University of Pennsylvania Institute for Environmental Studies given by Howard M. Neukrug of the Office of Watersheds, City of Philadelphia. This is part of a series of presentations provided by Department of Earth and Environmental Science. There is a permanent link to the left University of Penn IES.

Date: October 15, 2008
Time: NOON - 1:30 pm
Place: Carolyn Hoff Lynch Auditorium
On the Penn campus: Chemistry Building; 34 & Spruce St

The presentation description was:

"Philadelphia's declaration that it will be the greenest city in the world is an energizing call to action for the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD). As the department charged with ensuring optimal compliance with the City’s federal Clean Water Act (CWA) permit, PWD is striving to define an infrastructure management program that protects and enhances our region’s waterways by managing stormwater runoff in a way that significantly reduces the need for pipes. Over the past year we have crafted a vision that focuses on the treatment of publicly-owned land – city properties, streets, right-of-ways – land surfaces that constitute 45 percent of the impervious land area of the City - that modifies the relationship between land and stormwater. This sustainable, environmentally beneficial treatment is known as green infrastructure.

The goal of our Green Infrastructure program is to reduce the impervious cover in our communities – the hard surfaces such as asphalt and concrete that make up the largest percentage of land – that results in the greatest amount of stormwater runoff. We look at our City’s streets with an eye that seeks sometimes modest and sometimes grand opportunities to peel back some of the existing concrete and asphalt to recreate a green element that welcomes the rain – storing, draining and cleaning it. Ideally, when we complete a public land transformation, the new green infrastructure will manage the first one inch of rainfall that would normally flow along its street gutters and into its storm drains within the targeted drainage area.

PWD believes that money spent on stormwater management and the attainment of CWA goals should also represent money spent to improve the natural resources of the city and to enhance the community. To this end, PWD is working to incorporate its green approach into a larger citywide sustainability policy to address not only water resources issues, but to also address other environmental issues such as air quality, waste product reuse, urban heat island mitigation, carbon sequestration, and energy conservation. However, we cannot implement a Green Infrastructure program in a vacuum. Retrofitting a street or public facility is certainly more costly than building new infrastructure as a component of a complete renewal project. For PWD to solely focus on retrofit opportunities, our limited funding will be poorly invested. We believe the ideal is a true city-wide partnership, one that would result in an incredibly innovative, cost-effective and transforming approach to how city departments revitalize its neighborhoods to make them a healthier and more sustainable place in our little corner of the biosphere."

After the presentation I was actually able to find a copy of the slides online using the magic of the Internet.

This was a nice presentation and it was refreshing to see someone excited about the challenges and talk in terms of time lines and goals ranging from 1 year to 30 years to 100 years. I have not seen or heard such vision since my youth while working for the FAA and Hughes Aircraft long before deregulation.

There was a rather large audience and many questions after the presentation. I had many comments and questions I wanted to offer but I controlled myself in a rare moment of keeping a low profile.

There were 3 topics that surfaced which illustrate the need for System Engineering and a System View. The first one was that of planting trees, the second was green roofs, the third was the water management approach.

Since I was born in Philadelphia and lived there to about age 10 I actually have some subject matter expertise in 2 of these areas.

I remember as a child tree lined streets and trees in the small back yards of the brown stones. Back then we called them row houses. The big issue when I was a child circa 1960 was related to the trees damaging sidewalks, streets, water lines, and sewer lines. All the parents feared that their trees might cost them some serious money. It hit home in our house after a big storm when a neighbor lost 2 rather large trees in their back yard. When these great trees were forced down by nature they crossed the yards of 3 neighbors, smashed fences, and scared a few folks. Yes they were big. By the time the late 60's and early 70's rolled around most of the trees were gone, replaced by concrete. The city really got ugly at that point and I was living among trees in a New Jersey Suburb with housing lots that could safely tolerate trees. I have a theory that you need about 1/4 of an acre to safely support green buffer zones between houses. But it is just a theory, I have no analysis to back it up - where is the System Engineering...

I also remember living with flat roofs. They were all slanted but no matter what you did they always leaked. I am not sure what it means when you create a green roof but I hope maintainability is part of the system engineering analysis that is used for the solution of a green roof.

I need to confess I know nothing about water management. The presentation was thus very enlightening. Especially the part where I learned the home sewer water is mixed with the street water runoff. This is apparently an acceptable approach to sewer management except when it rains. At that point as the street runoff enters the system, the water treatment plants are overwhelmed and raw sewage enters the river. The current preferred approach is to manage the storm runoff using various techniques that store the water for slow submission to the system or use various techniques to get it into the ground. The alternative is a massive multi-billion dollar project to create a huge storm runoff system. A question I had was, since the home sewage is such low volume, why not retrofit the current sewer system that is large enough to handle street runoff with an internal closed "pipe". Just another perspective that System Engineering might be able to address.

In all fairness the presenter was very "system thinking" oriented. Many of the words during the presentation suggested that big "system engineering" may be part of the organization. But I am an outsider and I am not sure if the organization is 3 people or 3000 people doing "System Engineering" on this major piece of really cool infrastructure.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

2008 Collingswood Book Festival

Yesterday I attended the Collingswood Book Festival as an author. I did not know what to expect but I have to confess it was a very nice time. The location was beautiful. We were located outside the lawn of a church with a great tree and beautiful courtyard.

There were not as many people at this show as in previous years, but I had many people stop buy to ask about the book and eventually get my signature. The people fell into 3 categories: the retired, those in college or fresh out of college, and those in between.

I was completely surprised to see the retired stop by and tell me about their work experiences at SDC, RAND, Hughes on the west coast then RCA, NAFEC, and other places on the east coast. I did not expect this in a small town outside Philadelphia. We talked and they knew people that were my first managers and mentors on systems that my generation was supposed to replace. To my complete surprise and delight they immediately knew what the book was about and they could clearly see the connection to what they did in their time - System Engineering. There was no selling on my part at all; instead they started to educate me on the merits of the themes inherent in the title. This was totally shocking to me.

I was happy to see people in college and fresh out of college very interested in the book. Like the retired they were excited about the topic, but unlike the retired they did not understand it. They just felt it was something they needed to know. They intently listened to me talk about system engineering and why we need to practice it in this new century.

The in between age group were really disinterested in the book. They would walk by or quickly shift their gaze away from the table and the literature. Three people in this group actually stopped and they were a very hard sell. Yes I did eventually sell them a book but the level of effort was incredible. Two of them were city planners in the local county. The third was a person from the financial sector who was in the middle of the current mortgage crisis. He was obviously very upset at the current state of affairs. He said he tried to warn his peers but no one would listen to him. He said he even wrote a book on the topic. Using the miracle of the Internet and I actually verified that he did write a book for internal consumption at one of these companies. The book was written 2 years ago; they did not listen. In any case his final comment was that I was a very good salesman and he bought the book. Obviously the general theme of the book is something that he knows could have helped avert disaster in his industry.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Systainability in the City

This was the first persentation I attended at the University of Pennsylvania Institute for Environmental Studies. It was given by Spencer Finch of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council. Spencer is Director of Sustainable Development, Penn Environmental Council.

This is part of a series of presentations provided by Department of Earth and Environmental Science. There is a permanent link to the left University of Penn IES.

Date: April 09, 2008
Time: NOON - 1:30 pm
Place: Carolyn Hoff Lynch Auditorium
On the Penn campus: Chemistry Building; 34 & Spruce St

The presentation description was:

"Nicknamed by some the “world’s most sustainable mayor”, Jaime Lerner came to Philly in February of 2006 and was a major hit – a sell out audience packed the Academy of Natural Sciences, the mayor gave him the keys to the city, Lerner charmed Brenda Jorett on WHYY radio, and many in the non-profit, government, and private world were inspired into action.

But what has happened in Philadelphia and the region since then? Where are we today, compared to 2 years ago? Do changes in this urban environment matter – especially when compared to a species (or an entire habitat) going extinct in the middle of Amazon or of Indonesia; or to climate change being a potential threat to humans for generations to come?

What is sustainability – for you, for me, for us residents of Philadelphia and the region? How do you bridge the science and the politics, the passion and the resistance to change, the ideal and the doable? What is, after all, sustainability in the city? Jaime Lerner and his hometown of Curitiba, Brazil are a model. But can Philadelphia be one as well?

Come hear from Spencer Finch, an engineer and Penn alum who went from a private engineering firm to the non-profit sector – and join the dialogue!"

I was very impressed with the facility and the presentation.

The presentation started with a historical perspective. There were some great slides of Bridesburg vacation homes from long ago. Yes that is right. At one time there were homes along the Delaware River front that were vacation homes. People would retreat to thees places for a week end of fishing. I wish the slides were made available, they are truly wonderful.

I was really surprised to see this emphasis on changing the city. Having been born in Philadelphia and moving to the green suburbs as a child I always equated the city with ecological disaster. It was further reinforced when I moved to California and Florida, both environmentally orders of magnitude above an beyond then Philadelphia metropolitan area. However, this speaker spoke with great conviction and point to other organizations trying to move the city into a new direction.

Apparently Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York have made major commitments to be the greenest cities in the United States. The are 3 models that are being used to accomplish this goal:

1. Business Led Model
2. Political Legislative Led Model
3. Other based on Business, Legislation, Non-Profits

New York is an example of being a business led model. It is coming from the business community as self initiated efforts primarily in new construction projects. Chicago is an example of then mayor setting a green goal for the city and using legislation and other methods to achieve the goals. Philadelphia is a combination of New York and Chicago but adds the additional element of non-profits. Each city is able to point to some great accomplishment as an example. Philadelphia can point to the new Comcast building as being the tallest green building in the USA.

Some of the other links are:

Delaware Valley Green Building Council

Penn Future

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Road To Change - Stockton College

On Saturday April 5, 2008 there was an Environmental Educational Forum at Stockton College. This was an all day event that included workshops, presentations, and a special guest appearance of Ralph Nader. My daughter and I got signed copies of Ralph's book "The Good Fight - Declare Your Independence and Close the Democracy Gap". We attended 3 presentations before sitting down to hear Ralph Nader speak. I will describe one presentation because it was good and then Ralph Nader's presentation because it was great (I am not a Nader follower).

We attended a presentation called Climate Change: Science and Solutions. It was given by Andrew Huemmler a Lecturer from the Earth and Environmental Science Department University of Pennsylvania. The presentation description was:

"Within the last two years, public perception about climate change has shifted. Once viewed with skepticism by many, climate change is now on many people's agendas whether it be at a personal, organizational, or political scale. The science of climate change will be briefly reviewed. Emerging policy responses, particularly carbon "cap and trade" legislation will be summarized. Solutions suggested by putting a price on carbon emissions will be discussed."

Andrew was very knowledgeable and a very good presenter. The time flew much too fast and the thoughts stimulated exceeded the time allotted for questions and answers.

I was surprised to learn that a carbon market was created a few years ago in Europe. It eventually collapsed because the share of allotted carbon credits was to large. Apparently Europeans produce less carbon than was realized at the time the market was established. However this experience was invaluable for tuning the market in the future in Europe and then rolling it out to the USA.

Andrew mentioned that as we were gathered at this meeting people were working on millions of lines of software code in England and other countries for eventual roll out to the USA. He basically said not if but when. He mentioned that this would probably start to roll out to the USA in about 2-3 years. Andrew drew an analogy to the existing hydrogen sulfide market in the USA that has been successfully in place for decades.

The Ralph Nader presentation was definitely the highlight of the day. I never saw Ralph I only knew him from the popular media. Needless to say the media image in my head was wrong. This is a very intelligent articulate man who has lived a long time and has something to say that we should attempt to hear. He spoke for almost 2 hours without any notes and completely energized the audience which included people like my 20 something year old daughter. There was no rhetoric. There was only problem identification then possible solutions. The solutions were all based on what people have done through history. I was especially sensitized to this because of my recent completion of a study to use software to analyze global warming documents for content. In that process we used the Internet to find tools that people have used to solve problems. So I was shocked to hear Ralph basically affirm the study of document analysis and separating rhetoric from real content.

Some of the tools Ralph mentioned are: regulation, prosecution, quality competition, civil litigation, tort law, litigation, class action law suits, mobilized consumers, international cooperation, prevention, coalitions, building coalitions.

This was obviously from the perspective of a lawyer. It was very powerful when he asked the audience to raise their hands if they have been part of any law suit on either end. No one raised their hands. He then said everyone claims that the lawyers are out of control. If that is the case why were there no hands. He then eloquently made the case that litigation is a tool available to a free people and that tool is key to maintaining freedom. He went down a list of other examples and tools. He eventually pointed to a book that he wrote which lists tools that people can use to engage as citizens and said that he donated copies to the Stockton Library. This was fascinating because I had just completed software to analyze policy documents and I used it to analyze 3 policy documents.

On the way back from the conference my daughter had one comment which I will try to recreate.

Why all the carbon stuff, why not just do the right thing and build things that minimize carbon. Why do you have to give people incentives to do the right thing. Why not just give the money to people who build things to just go off and build them instead of wasting it on all these paper pushers. The world is complicated enough it needs to be made simpler.

So there you have it... a profound system thinking system engineering reaction to the day of fun.

These are links of note from the event:

Atlantic County Utilities Authority
New Jersey Water Watch

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The First Post

10/14/08 10:22 PM

So this is the first post on this blog. I have been delaying this event for 10 months. Today I bit the bullet and just did it. I am trying to decide if I should fill the blog with the events of the past or just treat this as day one.

I made the decision to start to backfill this blog. I think the story is important. As time progresses I will fill in the details that started in June 21, 2005. So it has been a long road to this point.