50 Years + Two Really Different Years Later
It’s been 52 years since Earth Day was founded, and we have watched the Earth change in significant ways – for better or for worse.
First, the Good
Since the first Earth Day in 1970, the United States Congress has authorized the Environmental Protection Agency, passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. As a result, America’s rivers are no longer filthy, the air is cleaner, and oil spills are rarer. The bald eagle is no longer endangered. The hole in the ozone layer is beginning to heal, and renewable energy has started to become a cost competitive source of energy in many parts of the world.
On the other hand
In the last 50 years the earth’s annual temperature has risen by .45 degrees Fahrenheit per decade. The oceans are warming at alarming rates. We have witnessed severe and out-of-control forest fires resulting in dangerous air quality. Between 1970 and 2014, animal populations have declined 60 percent worldwide due to habitat loss, pollution, and climate change according to the World Wildlife Foundation. Despite progress, there are many signals that we need to keep working towards a sustainable future.
Over the last two years, we have witnessed what happens when we make dramatic, collective changes to human behavior. The worldwide disruption initiated by the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted many positive effects on the environment and climate. Stay-at-home orders, work from home mandates, and a considerable decline in planned travel caused levels of air pollution and water pollution to plummet. In China, emissions of harmful gases and other pollutants dropped 25% and the quality of air improved up to 11.4% with respect to 2019. Nitrogen dioxide, a toxic gas emitted from automobile engines, and carbon dioxide decreased significantly, with CO2 levels falling as much as 48% in the UK, 27% in Italy, and 18% in China. Ozone concentration above the Arctic regions has lessened, and water quality in rivers has improved by the pause of industrial effluent discharge and other wastes into our watersheds.
Where do we go from here?
As we stand at the precipice of returning to “normal,” I mention these statistics so we may think about what we have learned and how we could do things differently by asking ourselves challenging questions: How do we build a better “normal”? How do we work better? And how do we change the world for the better, tackling big societal issues like climate change.
At SRG, we are pondering these questions and rethinking how we can make a difference in the lives of our employees and our clients as they make the world a better place. We have made our working remote and flex time policies permanent –, allowing staff to work from home, the office, or a combination—whatever best fits with their lives and work responsibilities. This small step fosters not only a sense of flexibility for our staff, but also reduces some of our firm’s carbon footprint linked to the daily commute. Our goal is to make good use of our studio for connection-based and collaborative activities that make sense to be conducted in person while preserving some of the good that came about from the pandemic.
In addition, SRG also has a Sustainability Team, who focuses on the way that the things we produce—buildings and the built environment—impact the natural environment and the communities that interact with our designs. This year, the Sustainability Team is focused on improving SRG’s sustainability playbook, sustainability G-Sheets, and a red-list materials audit to resource share with the greater firm. Our goal is to start on the greenest foot we can by advancing sustainable design processes, providing thought leadership, and sharing stories of sustainability excellence.