Wed | Aug 16, 2017

Reducing Jamaica's carbon footprint

Published:Friday | December 4, 2015 | 12:00 AMHugh M. Dunbar

The COP 21 climate conference is under way in Paris, France, and the world's leaders are gathered to discuss the progress achieved since their last meeting and plans for the future objectives.

In Jamaica, we contribute an insignificant amount to the global burden of environmental challenges, but for a small country, we suffer from a disproportionate amount of pollution that adversely affects the population.

We see a rise in asthma because of airborne pollutants, and deforestation as more people strive to farm. The mineral industry seeks to remove all of the profit from our soil, leaving toxic mud lakes of caustic soda. Our buildings are mostly inefficient and almost always need artificial lighting and air conditioning.

As an architect, I believe Jamaica can play a key role in demonstrating a working model of a sustainable built environment. We should strive to undertake this as part of Jamaica's Vision 2030 for the built environment.

Creating new and innovative designs is something we can do to make commonplace the principles and practices to make our environment most sustainable. In conjunction with the University of Technology, building assemblies, material and orientation can be developed and tested to create projects that achieve optimal results for conditioning buildings and natural lighting.

 

TIME TO BITE BULLET

 

Government, for its part, must bite the bullet and actively pursue a zero-carbon footprint for all its facilities. It has a good start with the current aid-funded energy-reduction activity, so it should not be difficult to increase the objective to achieve net zero buildings.

Achieving those results will give the authorities proof to encourage all Jamaicans to participate. Achieving net zero status will also be a motivation, because of savings from offsetting fuel and energy costs, and a healthier environment for the staff and public will be invaluable and can go towards the capital cost for the sustainable infrastructure.

This goal must be hurried along to provide encouragement for doing things that I know are possible.

Our leaders must be committed and on board. In an ironic twist, the Ministry of Education building at Heroes Circle, designed by the late Wilson Chong, is one of the first sustainable buildings in the Caribbean, with its faÁade treatment to reflect the tropical environment, featuring exposed north-facing windows and louvred south-facing ones, the building was wonderfully cool in the days before air conditioning.

Today, for some strange reason, the north-facing windows are tinted and most of the offices are air conditioned. We could recondition this building to reduce its carbon footprint, put solar panels in place, and install daylight-harvesting measures. These are low-hanging energy fruit.

 

CLEAR GOALS NEEDED

 

Making our built environment a sustainable one will require a disciplined, sustained, strenuous and cooperative effort among all building professionals, financiers, and government administrators to establish clear goals and milestones in our industry.

We must start with an agreed plan and pursue local and international technology to arrive at our goals of less energy-intensive buildings. We can make good use of the abundant sunshine to increase natural-light use in our buildings. We can lay out our communities and orient our buildings to take advantage of the daily island breezes caused by our mountains and ocean.

As far as planning is concerned, we must take a stock of the heavy concentration of people in urban areas and agree on how we will get the necessary infrastructure in place. Everything mentioned here is currently being addressed globally, and we should have our own technological university join that robust design and research group to devise ways and means to reduce our carbon footprint islandwide to suit our climate, culture and economy.

Jamaica should set its own goals to not only keep aligned with the international community, but also to set an example of how this can be done.

- Hugh M. Dunbar is an architect. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and hmdenergy@gmail.com.