April 21, 2006
  Students Fight to Build a Green Future

On Earth Day 2006, there’s something on the minds of young architects and engineers, and it’s a problem that won’t leave them alone. The challenge to come, they say, is the future of construction and energy practices. And these students, ingrained with problem-solving skills, are using politics to find solutions.

Their cause? Sustainability. And students are organizing at the university and national level [] to fight for green building and renewable energy to be instated on their campuses. Throughout the United States, politicians and universities are quickly finding that student leaders have the clout to influence decisions concerning energy and construction on campuses. We’re not talking chump change here: school construction is a lucrative, billion-dollar market.

Students at the University of Colorado, for example, fought for construction of campus buildings to be LEED certified green and to be conscious of labor issues. On the West Coast, a student-run campaign called RenewCSU succeeded in mandating that the California State University system require all new building with major renovations to meet LEED standards, and to meet 20 percent clean-electricity standards by 2010. And at colleges such as the University of Oregon, the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard, green building has dominated construction, largely in part because of student activism.

“These are the graduates that are going to be shaping the industry within half a decade, so it’s important for industry to keep an eye on these folks,” says architectural-engineering student Tylor Middlestadt. He’s president of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s student government. He used that position as a bully pulpit to advocate building of new, “green” dorms at his school. “If there is no opportunity for these innovative students to thrive within the industry, then they’re going to create their own enterprises and find ways to implement their ideas,” he says.

The New York Times reports that more than 110 colleges nationwide have instituted green building structures to be certified by the U.S. Green Building Council [http://www.usgbc.org/], thanks largely in part to the work of impassioned students and supportive faculty and designers.

  The Environmental Protection Agency says that the number of universities investing in renewable (or “green”) power continues to grow as well.

Even California Gov. Schwarzenegger (R) acknowledged this trend last week, when he came to the University of California at Davis to watch the Clean Energy Fund present a $1 million grant to the school. The money is earmarked for research in green building and renewable energy.

Students are demanding to be heard. During an April 7-9 conference, more than 500 students met at Yale and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville to strategize ways to bring renewable energy to their campuses.

“When an entire generation embraces a cause … then there’s a pretty strong shift in the center of gravity where the industry is going to be headed,” says a hopeful Middlestadt.

Send us your thoughts.

Read comments >>

April 11, 2006

Class Time: So how important are communication skills anyway?

It’s quite simple, experts and academics say (54kb, ) that if an engineer can’t communicate and work well with others then the world will have some major problems getting stuff done. Especially as global projects force people to bridge the divide between countries, cultures and foreign tongues, these skills could make a break a person’s success in the industry.

ABET, Inc. (the recognized U.S. accreditor of college and university programs in applied science, computing, engineering, and technology) outlined some ideas about how to integrate teaching these so-called "soft skills" into engineering curriculums in a report published last year (128kb, ).

The authors pinpointed Union College coputer science and engineering professor John Spinelli, who developed a course that examined the history of electrical engineering by combining the study of technological development in American and European civilizations with a concentration on writing, oral communication, and ethics. They also praised the University of Utah, which brought in teaching assistants from the humanities into engineering classes so that communication skills can be taught as “situational” learning.

The report also emphasized that group assignments in a classroom setting can help cultivate those much-needed teamwork skills.

The Office Corner: TeenSpeak should, like, not be used in the office place

And if young engineers didn’t have enough problems learning how to communicate, they also have to shape their vernacular to avoid the dreaded phenomenon that language experts are callingTeenSpeak.”

TeenSpeak, (you know- my generation’s version of the “groovy” lingo that has transcended into phrases such as “like” or “whatever”) is apparently showing up in the office space, unnerving some well-spoken elders and raising questions as to what happened to English language education.

Besides concerns about lax language skills, critics see this adolescent dialect as the young’s culture of informality. And worse yet, TeenSpeak could be costing some young people their reputation on the job as the boss man sees such talk as a lack of etiquette and professional presentation skills.

Jeff Fenimore, a principal architect at Architects Rudi/Lee/Dreyer in Iowa, warned students in the Iowa State Daily that this slang “may hurt a potential employee’s credibility.” (Dude. That sucks.)

But for those engineers who really do need help learning how to transform their thoughts into communicable ideas, there are many articles and resources available for developing such skills.

Send us your thoughts.

April 1, 2006

  Tapping a New Source Of Water Project Financing

Next time you take water to drink, think.

Whether it comes from faucets or bottles, from the Dept. of Public Works or the beverage center of a supermarket, water costs money. An expensive infrastructure of civil works puts water where we need it for free. An expensive system of bottling and distributing puts water where we can pay for it in bottles.

In many developing countries, the poor have no safe drinking water so they spend part of their meager resources on the bottled stuff. It isn’t right, and even some of the kingpins of bottled water and fashionable consumerism understand that.

So it’s a strange paradox that when Starbucks-goers grab a bottle of Ethos Water (the coffee giant’s own bottled water company) along with their iced lattes, they’re paying for projects to end dependence on bottled water by the world’s poor…with bottled water.

Charging $1.80 each, Ethos Water promises to donate five cents of every bottle sold to finance water projects in developing countries. In 2005, Ethos invested $250,000 in sustainable water programs in Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Honduras, India and Kenya. Partnering with non-profits and Non-Governmental Organizations, Ethos’ projects focus primarily on well construction, water treatment and sanitation and hygiene education.

The need for such projects was ardently discussed at last week’s Fourth World Water Forum, where global experts squabbled over the lack of public water systems in the developing world. They also discussed the increasing reliance on private bottled water companies to compensate for basic water needs where safe drinking water was unavailable.

Inadequate or missing water treatment facilities plague many parts of the world; 1.1 billion people (nearly 20 percent of the world’s population) lack access to safe drinking water, according to Water Aid, an organization dedicated to providing safe water. UNICEF, the United Nation’s Childrens Fund, reports that in 2004, unsafe water led to 2.2 million deaths worldwide; nine out of ten of these were children under five years of age.

Worldwide, bottled water is a multi-billion dollar industry and often the only form of drinkable water in countries lacking water-treatment infrastructure. The Associated Press reports that bottled water sales in China jumped by more than 250 percent between 1999 and 2004. They tripled in India and almost doubled in Indonesia.

So it made sense that during the forum, the president of the World Water Council, Loïc Fauchon, called for huge donations to rebuild water systems in the poorest nations and largest cities.

Back in the U.S., Ethos Water has found a way to address global water challenges by targeting the “consumer with a conscience.”

“That water-for-water link just seemed to click,” Ethos Co-founder Jonathan Greenblatt told the New York Times last February.

Co-founders Greenblatt and Peter Thum formed Ethos Water in 2002, after witnessing the world water crisis first-hand on their jobs. Thum was inspired to start Ethos after working on a six-month project in South Africa for consultant Kinsey and Company. And Greenblatt worked for the Clinton Administration and the U.S. Department of Commerce, where he toured the world and was exposed to the global scarcity of water.

Starbucks bought Ethos for $8 million in 2005, making it available at 5,000 locations. Starbucks and Ethos plan to raise $10 million for water projects by 2010.

But that will only pay for an infinitesimal fraction of what’s needed.

So next time you drink, think.

Send us your thoughts.

Read comments >>

Related links:
Wanted: New Ideas for a Thirsty Planet




By Carrie McGourty