green construction

The VCU STS initiative sponsored an e-Festival Sustainability Symposium.  I had the pleasure of attending Ramana Pidaparti’s talk on recycled materials for sustainable housing applications.  Green engineering has never been hotter.  And it has a huge impact on energy usage.  The US Green Building Council (2001) reports that 37% of total energy consumption in the US is due to housing.  Since we spend nearly five times as much on renovation than on new construction, there are many opportunities for making green buildings that save energy, reduce carbon emissions, and reduce waste.

Efficient design was cutting edge in the 19th century whereas maintenance was trendy in the 20th century.  The latest trend is to minimize waste in the end of the life cycle.  I recommend reading Cradle to Cradle for more about this concept.  Dr. Pidaparti talked about several materials for green construction, including

  • Insulated wall and roof panels
  • Insulated concrete form (for walls and foundation)
  • Wheatboard and formaldehyde-free plywood
  • Optimized manufacturing methods (such as prefabricated construction)
  • Recycled materials (wood flooring, sheetrock, steel, concrete, glass, furnishings)

His research group minimally processed aluminum cans (i.e., by cutting and pasting) to construct aluminum-wood composite laminate.  It reminded me of the weather sensors used in the movie Twister, except this is real.  He is hoping to use these designs in a coffee bistro for Monroe Park, a park in the middle of VCU’s campus in need of a facelift.

Dr. Pidaparti also mentioned that cost does not capture all important attributes in green constructions, since the consumer does not absorb all costs (such as the implications of waste).  It sounds like there may be opportunities for decision analysis to take these other attributes into account.

The 18th Annual Future City Competition for middle school children will examine affordable sustainable housing this year.  Perhaps the winning competition will use OR?

Read GreenOR for more about, well, green OR.

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