By Claire Shillington

At the R.W. Kern Center, we spend a lot of time talking about innovative topics in environmental sustainability. I was hired to find interesting and engaging ways to teach others about the green technologies we implement in our building.

But I’ve found that these topics don’t always seem interesting right away, because many people don’t understand the ways that our built environment currently works. It’s my job (and my nerdy passion) to get excited about these sustainable technologies, but often I don’t even know how these technologies compare to the more conventional alternatives. This blog series is here to remind or teach you (and me!) how our built environment works (and how ours works smarter at the RWKC!).

What am I talking about? Some examples:

  • The RWKC is designed to collect, treat, and use rainwater from our roof. If you don’t know how far your water travels to get to you (or what type of environmental impact that has), collecting and using rainwater may not seem that novel.
  • If you don’t know that formaldehyde, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), and other nasty chemicals you can’t pronounce are commonly found in building products such as fiberglass insulation (that fluffy pink stuff in your attic), laminates, glues, wood products, or HVAC systems—to name a few—it doesn’t impress you that we constructed an entire building without these toxic substances.
  • If you don’t know how much water or energy you use, or how your water or energy gets to you, how can you appreciate sustainable practices that reduce your water or energy use, as well as your environmental impact (and, likely, your utility bills)?

Get my point? So often we offer solutions to problems without helping others understand what the problems are! This blog serves as a way to remind people how we interact with the built environment, where we spend 90% of our lives1. Once we understand how things work, we can move in the direction of improvement. As our colleague Jonathan Wright says (paraphrasing Maya Angelou), “once we know better, we do better.”

My goal is to discuss the stuff you don’t know about, haven’t thought about in a while, or didn’t think to ask. Do you have questions or suggestions for a topic? Let me know in the comments below.

First up: energy.

Questions tackled:

  • Where does the energy that powers our buildings come from?
  • What is “the grid”?
  • What is electricity?
  • How is electricity generated?
  • What’s the deal with fossil fuels?
  • How does electricity get to me?
  • Why should I care?
  • What can I do about it?

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