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Negative Impacts of Food Production, What can Green Designers and Builders do?

Wednesday, April 20, 2022 10:45 AM | Kim Pyszka (Administrator)

Written By Grady O’Rear

According to the United Nations, Food …. lies at the heart of trying to tackle climate change, reducing water stress, pollution, restoring lands back to forests or grasslands, and protecting the world’s wildlife.”

With the many threats humanity faces brought about by COVID-19, much emphasis in the green building sector is focused on IEQ improvements and workplace best practices. While these initiatives provide important opportunities to mitigate risks, there are other built environment tools and features that can help curb root causes that lead to the emergence and reemergence of infectious disease as well as greenhouse gas production, pollution, and land degradation. Let’s explore some of them.

Reduce Natural Resource Extraction. The green building industry has a strong commitment to conserving natural resources. For example, most of us are aware that we can:

  • ·         Prioritize development in urban areas
  • ·         Promote passive and active solar design and construction
  • ·         Make electricity and water use more efficient
  • ·         Generate and use more renewable energy
  • ·         Reuse and recycle materials
  • ·         Select and install local materials that are environmentally benign
  • ·         Plan and utilize state-of-the art storm water management systems.

But there is another arena of activity within the built environment that can bring significantly beneficial results that is lesser known and rarely emphasized – promotion of low on-the-food-chain eating. Here are some of the reasons this area of environmental impact needs to be prioritized:

  • ·         A recent United Nations report on climate change warned that “The rearing of livestock generates 14 per cent of all carbon emissions, similar to the amount generated by all transport put together. Currently, farmed animals occupy nearly 30 per cent of the ice-free land on Earth. The livestock sector generates a seventh of global greenhouse gas emissions and consumes roughly one-third of all freshwater on earth.”
  • ·         Although still under debate, many scientists believe there is convincing evidence that COVID-19 got its start in non-human animals. They contend that like MERS, SARS, HIV, Influenza A and Ebola, the coronavirus is zoonotic – it originated in animals and jumped to humans. Moreover, health experts warn that the problem isn’t the animals, it’s us. Agricultural intensification, deforestation and urbanization are responsible because they bring animals in closer proximity to humans.
  • ·         Animal Feeding Operations (AFOs), according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), are agricultural businesses in which animals are kept and raised in confined situations. Rather than grazing in pastures, fields, or rangeland, these enterprises congregate production facilities, animals, feed, manure, urine, and dead animals within a small land area. Among other negative impacts, AFOs contaminate surface and ground water and contribute to air pollution. There are approximately 450,000 AFOs in the United States.
  • ·         The potential for transfer of pathogens among animals is higher when they are in confinement. Asymptomatic animals may carry microbial agents that can infect humans.

These data point to animal food production, as practiced today, as detrimental to humanity and the planet. In addition to changing our own dietary habits, what can the green design and construction industry do to change this picture?

Use and Advocate for Built Environment Incentives. The industry has taken some important initial strides in this area. LEED now offers several credits that address food production issues. Below are some examples of additional actions that can be taken:

  • ·         Explore and utilize plant-based food options in the workplace and at company events.
  • ·         Educate colleagues and clients about food-related best practices and their impacts on sustainability goals.
  • ·         Utilize Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) scoring metrics. ESG investors recognize the direct link of financial performance with environmental and social impacts. Last year, 60 top global businesses committed to publicly support and transparently share ESG reports. The time is ripe for ESG + Nutrition.
  • ·         Consider R&D Tax Credits for companies that work to create or improve outcomes that promote plant-based products and diets.
  • ·         Create and submit additional LEED food-related credits.
  • ·         Influence other green building rating systems, standards, and codes to create, recognize, and promote food-production incentives.

Elegant solutions can be described as ones that simultaneously address multiple concerns and risks. Efforts to promote plant-based diets rank high on the list. It’s an amazing and timely opportunity for the green design and construction industry to pick this low hanging fruit and benefit from its profound effects.

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