Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, understanding the rapid evolution of green building practices and integrating those approaches into affordable housing may be more critical than ever, according to Walker Wells, a UCLA Luskin Urban Planning lecturer. In “Blueprint for Greening Affordable Housing,” Wells and co-author Kimberly Vermeer, a Boston-based sustainability consultant, argue that the best way to meet health and climate challenges is by providing society’s most vulnerable people with housing stability while reducing the environmental, health and climate impacts of constructing and operating buildings. In this fully revised edition of a book first published in 2007, the authors provide guidance on innovative green building practices and green building certifications available for affordable housing. To help builders align design decisions with environment-friendly goals, the authors explain the integrated design process. They also detail best practices for green design, from water management to renewable energy. Acknowledging the complexity of financing green affordable housing projects, Wells and Vermeer also discuss funding sources and the latest financing strategies. New case studies span high-desert homeownership, supportive housing in the Southeast and net-zero family apartments on the coasts. “Blueprint for Greening Affordable Housing” seeks to provide information for everyone in the affordable housing industry, including housing development project managers, designers, engineers, funders and housing advocates. Wells is a principal at Raimi+Associates, a consulting service with offices in Los Angeles, Riverside and Berkeley, California. Vermeer founded and leads Urban Habitat Initiatives, a consulting practice that advances sustainability and climate resilience.
By Colleen Callahan
A new report by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) that highlights impacts of plastic production and waste in Los Angeles County will benefit the county in drafting an ordinance addressing plastic waste.
“One of the findings from the report that may surprise Angelenos is that a majority of plastic waste in L.A. County is not currently recycled,” said Gary Gero, the county’s chief sustainability officer. “This is just part of the problem behind the environmental, economic, energy and human-health-related impacts associated with plastic production and waste in L.A. County, which this study clearly reveals.”
The report also analyzes alternative options in food service and singles out single-use plastic food service waste for its outsized representation in litter and its low recycling potential. No facility in L.A. County currently recycles plastic food service ware because of concerns about food contamination and other issues. After a policy change from China in 2018 to limit recyclable waste materials accepted by that country, only #1 and #2 plastics are commonly recycled.
“Fortunately, there are alternatives to plastic containers, cups, straws and ‘sporks’ that make practical and economic sense,” said JR DeShazo, the principal investigator on the study and director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. “Solutions are on hand, as the report makes abundantly clear.”
Researchers found that compostable ware can reduce environmental impacts as compared to plastic. But the report also explains that a full transition to compostable ware across the region would need to be approached carefully.
For one, it would require an expansion of the currently limited composting infrastructure in L.A. County. Fortunately, state regulations are in place to mandate this expansion over the next few years and the county is actively working toward meeting those state targets. In addition, a larger transition to compostable ware would require thoughtful consideration of materials in order to select products with a lower lifetime environmental impact as compared to plastic. Compostable products that are 100% fiber-based without chemical treatment produce the best environmental outcome.
No disposable ware can beat the environmental footprint of reusable food service ware, researchers found. Moving to reusables in place of disposables represents a large shift for many food vendors, with higher up-front costs but lower expenditures over time.
The fiscal break-even point for businesses can generally occur within the first year of transition, with direct cost savings for businesses afterward totaling thousands of dollars per year, according to the study.
“It was heartening to see the conclusions related to economic impacts of moving our businesses to more sustainable materials,” Gero said. “It’s also relatively easy for us, as individuals, to do something about it — like bringing our own cups, straws and utensils when we dine at a fast-service type of restaurant.”
In California, 135 cities and counties have adopted ordinances related to single-use plastic reduction. Researchers interviewed officials from eight of those cities, mostly in L.A. County.
The experiences of these jurisdictions indicate that policies restricting plastics have been effective at reducing the adverse impacts of plastic waste with no reported negative economic impacts. These jurisdictions have provided avenues for vendors to claim exemptions for financial hardship, but the rate at which vendors have applied for such exemptions is very low, the study notes.
The Los Angeles County Chief Sustainability Office commissioned the study, per a motion by county supervisors directing the office to contract with UCLA to study the issue of plastic waste, processing, recyclability and alternatives in the county. The motion came after supervisors earlier in 2019 approved the OurCounty Sustainability Plan, a comprehensive approach to help L.A. County transition to a more sustainable future through actions that include plastic waste reduction. The county plans to release its draft ordinance later in 2020.
By Colleen Callahan
Analysis by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) is underway in support of Los Angeles’ goal to recycle all wastewater by 2035 and use it to replenish local groundwater and reduce the need to import water.
“Using recycled water is the next major step in Southern California to ensure needed resiliency against future droughts and earthquakes,” said Nicholas Chow MSc Civil and Environmental Engineering ’16, water engineering project manager for LCI. “Our study could inform construction of a pipeline that provides millions of customers with a new source of clean water.”
According to an announcement by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2019, the city will stop discarding wastewater to the ocean and instead recycle that water for beneficial use. The plan to meet this goal centers on the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant, which is the largest wastewater treatment facility west of the Mississippi River. Hyperion receives the vast majority of the city’s total wastewater but currently recycles only 27%. The rest goes into the Pacific Ocean.
The LCI researchers are assessing a proposed Hyperion reuse and groundwater development project that would include construction of $2 billion worth of infrastructure over a decade in order to achieve the city’s 2035 implementation goal. Experts say this project may become the largest capital water project investment for Los Angeles during the 21st century.
In announcing the project, Garcetti framed the effort as L.A.’s next “Mulholland moment,” a reference to the legacy of water chief William Mulholland and the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which opened more than 100 years ago and helped create modern Los Angeles by redirecting water from the Owens Valley hundreds of miles away. City leaders now have an opposite ─ reducing the amount of water imported from far-away.
“Maximizing L.A.’s recycling capacity will increase the amount of water we source locally and help to ensure that Angelenos can count on access to clean water for generations to come,” Garcetti said in his announcement.
The objective of the UCLA study is to estimate the project’s value — specifically, how investing now in recycled water might avoid future costs for rate-paying households and businesses. Researchers are factoring in droughts, seismic events and the rising price of imported water, all of which threaten L.A.’s water supplies.
Commissioned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the agency responsible for maximizing beneficial use of water treated at the Hyperion plant, the UCLA study is being conducted in collaboration with L.A. Sanitation and Environment, which operates the Hyperion plant.
In a National Geographic article exploring transit-oriented development in cities across the globe, Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville commented on the challenges facing Los Angeles. The article focused on architect Peter Calthorpe, who highlights the negative effects of car-oriented urban environments on climate, air quality and congestion, in addition to time and money wasted by drivers. Urban planners look to transit-oriented development to remake healthy urban spaces and reverse the damage caused by dependence on automobiles. Calthorpe imagines an urban utopia where cities would stop expanding, pave less and heat the air and the planet around them less. He recommends dense clusters of walkable communities around a web of rapid transit to support a growing population. Manville weighed in on the urban environment of Los Angeles, where residents continue to rely on cars despite efforts to improve public transit. The conundrum, Manville said, is that “driving’s too cheap [and] housing’s too expensive.”
Kian Goh, assistant professor of urban planning, was quoted in an article from CityLab on a speculative proposal for sustainable living in the face of our rapidly changing climate. The futuristic solution involves high-tech cities that float atop the surface of the ocean and are aimed at total self-sufficiency in terms of food and energy production. The floating city is designed to provide permanent communities for those displaced by rising sea levels. Goh encouraged bold, utopian thinking but said this idea was unrealistic, mainly because these cities — while certainly a beautiful vision — could never provide enough homes for the several million people threatened with displacement. According to Goh, ideas like the floating city “are oftentimes posed as solving some big problem, when in many ways [they’re] an attempt to get away from the kinds of social and political realities of other places,” she said.
Gregory Pierce, associate director of research at the Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke with 20 Questions About Water about access to clean water in the United States and around the world. Pierce, an adjunct assistant professor of urban planning, said the percentage of people with access to clean water has increased but the raw number has not due to population growth. Pierce believes the government should be responsible for providing water at the local level. When governments have insufficient resources or are beset by corruption, a coalition of private companies, NGOs, the government and the community should be formed to provide real solutions, he argued. In the next 100 years, Pierce believes, water will become more decentralized and investments in water resources and technology will pay off. He encouraged citizens concerned about access to clean water to pressure decision-makers to take action.
Los Angeles’ innovative food purchasing system, spearheaded by UCLA Luskin Urban Planning lecturer Paula Daniels, has been recognized by the United Nations for its impact in promoting sustainable agriculture. The city’s Good Food Purchasing Program creates a food supply chain guided by nutrition, environmental sustainability, animal welfare and impact on local economies. The program was honored for harnessing the buying power of all city departments and the Los Angeles Unified School District to benefit students, growers, distributors and entrepreneurs. Since its launch in 2012, the program has expanded across the United States with support from the Center for Good Food Purchasing. The non-governmental organization is a spin-off of the Los Angeles Food Policy Council founded by Daniels in 2011. The L.A. program was one of eight from around the world to be recognized by the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization, the World Future Council and IFOAM Organics International. Daniels accepted the honor on behalf of the city at a ceremony in Rome in October 2018. On the same day, Daniels learned she had received an Ashoka Fellowship, awarded to innovators and entrepreneurs seeking creative solutions to the world’s biggest social challenges. “There’s so much interest, desire, will to make the food system more equitable and environmentally sound,” Daniels said in a Forbes article. “The fact that people are responding to our idea as a way forward for them is incredibly gratifying.”
The UCLA Meyer and Renee Luskin Center for Innovation was awarded the Sustainable Impact Award by the Los Angeles Business Council on April 19, 2018, at the organization’s 12th annual Sustainability Summit. Attending a VIP and awards reception at the summit were Meyer and Renee Luskin and JR DeShazo, director of the Center for Innovation. “The award recognizes the impact that Meyer and Renee’s generous gift has had on Los Angeles through UCLA. I felt grateful to be able to receive it with them,” said DeShazo, who also serves as the chair of Public Policy at UCLA Luskin. The award cited the Center for Innovation for its “leadership in developing cutting-edge strategies to spur renewable energy and energy efficiency in California.” The award further recognized the Center for “supporting the creation and implementation of state and local policies, investments and plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” This year’s summit featured regional leaders such as Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti for a discussion on West Coast climate leadership. The two-day summit also included expert panels about clean energy and climate change, as well as water management, resources and security. — Stan Paul
View photos on Flickr:
Working to upend one of the most stalwart of construction materials, a team of UCLA engineers, scientists and policy experts has advanced to the finals of the $20 million NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE by successfully creating a version of concrete that is nearly carbon-dioxide-neutral.
The international competition, which began in 2015 and is scheduled to conclude in 2020, challenged teams to develop carbon technologies that convert carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and industrial facilities into viable products. The eco-friendly building material, called CO2NCRETE, was developed by the UCLA Carbon Upcycling team and offers similar strengths and functionality as traditional concrete.
Ten finalists have been selected from a field of 27 semifinalists by an independent judging panel of eight international energy, sustainability and carbon dioxide experts. The teams have been awarded an equal share of a $5 million milestone prize.
“As the son and grandson of civil engineers, I have always been fascinated by construction, and reaching the XPRIZE finals by doing what I am most passionate about is perfectly aligned with what I value,” said Gaurav Sant, professor of civil and environmental engineering and of materials science in the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering. “The concrete and construction industries are ripe for disruption and the ability to make a positive impact in these sectors, while lessening our carbon dioxide footprint, is a worthy cause for the entire UCLA team.”
Sant is the head of the team, whose leadership also includes J.R. DeShazo, professor of public policy and director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation; Laurent Pilon, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering; Richard Kaner, professor of chemistry and biochemistry in the UCLA College and of materials science; and Mathieu Bauchy, professor of civil engineering. Additional team members include Gabriel Falzone, a doctoral student in materials science; Iman Mehdipour and Hyukmin Kweon, post-doctoral scholars in civil and environmental engineering; and Bu Wang, a project scientist in civil and environmental engineering, who is now an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
To secure a place in the finals, the UCLA team had to demonstrate that their technology consumed 200 kg of carbon dioxide in 24 hours. During a 10-month period, they were challenged to meet minimum technical requirements and were audited by independent verification partner Southern Research. The team was then evaluated by the judges based on the amount of carbon dioxide converted into CO2NCRETE, as well as the economic value, market size and carbon dioxide uptake potential of the construction material.
“The competition provides an opportunity for UCLA’s cutting-edge academic research to be applied in the real world,” Sant said. “The performance-based measures of CO2NCRETE have been useful in showing that this effort is not only viable, but scalable. And, of course, the support provided by the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Foundation has been foundational to our success.”
Traditional forms of cement are formed from anhydrous calcium silicate, while CO2NCRETE is composed from hydrated lime that is able to absorb carbon dioxide quickly into its composition. As a result, producing CO2NCRETE generates between 50 to 70 percent less carbon dioxide than its traditional counterpart.
The unique “lime mortar-like” composition also helps reduce the nearly 9 percent of global carbon dioxide emitted from the production of ordinary portland cement, the binding agent used in traditional concrete.
The most compelling advantage CO2NCRETE offers when compared to other carbon capture and utilization technologies, Sant said, is that the carbon dioxide stream used in its production does not have to be processed before use. The manufacturing process allows for carbon dioxide borne in the flue gas of power and industrial plants to be captured and converted at its source. This advantage creates a cost-competitive business model that avoids the expense of a carbon dioxide enrichment or treatment facility.
“These teams are showing us amazing examples of carbon conversion and literally reimagining carbon. The diversity of technologies on display is an inspiring vision of a new carbon economy,” said Marcius Extavour, XPRIZE senior director of energy and resources and prize lead. “We are trying to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by converting them into useful materials, and do so in an economically sustainable way.”
In the final and most ambitious stage of the competition, teams must demonstrate carbon dioxide utilization at a scale of two tons per day — a scale that is 10 times greater than the semifinals requirements — at an industrial test site. The UCLA team will compete at the Wyoming Integrated Test Center, a carbon research facility in Gillette, Wyoming, co-located with the Dry Fork Station coal power plant. This final stage of the competition will start in June 2019 and conclude in early 2020.
Sant is also the director of the Institute for Carbon Management at UCLA, which draws on UCLA’s campus-wide expertise to create innovative solutions to the climate change challenge. Launched this spring, the institute is developing advanced technology and market-driven strategies for mitigating the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
By Will Livesley-O’Neill
The UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies kicked off its spring speaker series with one of the world’s most influential urbanists, Gil Penalosa, an advocate for public spaces and sustainable mobility. Cities must meet the challenges of the 21st century through public policy and design that improves the quality of life for all residents, Penalosa argued.
“We need to decide how we want to live,” he told a large crowd of Luskin School students, staff, faculty and community partners.
Penalosa, a graduate of the MBA program at the UCLA Anderson School, is the founder and chair of 8 80 Cities, a nonprofit organization based in Toronto and dedicated to the idea that urban spaces should benefit an 8-year-old or an 80-year-old equally. He also chairs the board of World Urban Parks, an international association in favor of open space and recreation, after getting his start by transforming parks programs as a commissioner in Bogotá.
The groundbreaking programs overseen by Penalosa in Colombia included a weekly event to turn city streets into activity centers for walking, biking and other activities, which has served as a model for CicLAvia in Los Angeles and similar programs worldwide. Penalosa said that after streets turn into “the world’s largest pop-up park,” people begin to think about how much of their city is usually off-limits.
“All of a sudden we realize that the streets are public,” he said, adding that in a given city, around 35 percent of the total land is occupied by roadways. “We need to be much better at using everything that is public.”
Penalosa, who has consulted for more than 300 cities around the world, urges local leaders to use public space such as libraries and schoolyards for communal activities. He said that “playability” is a feature in urban design — making spaces more welcoming for children opens them up for everyone else as well. Every city should set a goal to have some kind of park within a 10-minute walk of any home, Penalosa said.
“Parks and public spaces are fantastic equalizers,” he said, describing the social integration that takes place during large sporting events, political protests and smaller exchanges such as children interacting with a sculpture. Penalosa added that public space helps people make friends and live healthier, but it can also promote transit and climate policy goals.
“Safe and enjoyable walking and biking should be a human right,” he said, noting that non-driving transit modes are not just recreational activities but the primary means of transportation for most of the world’s population. As the global urban population has surged — with the number of people living in cities expected to grow from 3.5 billion to 7 billion people over the next four decades — Penalosa believes that policymakers must shift their focus away from accommodating car travel and toward improving quality of life. This means prioritizing human interaction in public spaces by expanding parks, building sidewalks, reducing speed limits to make walking safer, connecting bicycle routes into cohesive grids, and much more.
Penalosa’s talk was presented in partnership with the California Association for Coordinated Transportation (CALACT), a statewide nonprofit association advocating for small transit agencies, rural transportation funding and coordinated mobility programs. The full schedule for the spring transportation speaker series will soon be available on the ITS website.
View additional photos from the presentation in a Flickr album:
Sorry, no posts matched your criteria