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Awnings create buildings that fight global warming

Case Studies | May 1, 2008 | By:

Will the awning industry take advantage of growing worldwide awareness and concern for environmental preservation–and how much of a part can they play?

In spite of the extensive efforts by the Japan Awning Association (JAA) and IFAI Japan, awnings have not yet reached their potential in the Japanese market. A big opportunity for the industry lies in its contribution to energy conservation by insulating buildings from outside heat.

As concerns about global environmental preservation have increased internationally, interest in the use of awnings as a construction component has also gained appeal. The JAA held a seminar in December in Tokyo on that theme, with an address by Mr. Hikaru Kobayashi, Director-General of the Global Environment Bureau, Ministry of the Environment, Japan. Mr. Kobayashi was instrumental in the Kyoto Protocol Conference in December 1997 (COP 3), where he led international negotiations and, following the conference, submitted legislation on global warming prevention to the Japanese National Diet. His recent speech to JAA enumerated possibilities for the awning market in light of global climate change. The challenge now is whether the awning industry will respond to growing concern for environmental preservation.

The human footprint

Mr. Kobayashi reviewed the history and growing worldwide awareness of environmental issues over the past four decades: Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring; acid rain and the 1972 Stockholm Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment; Dr. F. Sherwood Rowland’s 1974 theory of the destruction of the ozone layer by flon gas; the adoption by the United Nations of the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer in 1985; the establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988; and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1997, where the Kyoto Protocol was adopted. In spite of the United States’ refusal to support the Kyoto Protocol, it went into force in February 2005.

For the past 420,000 years, CO2 emissions have been stable at around 280 ppm. However, by 2005 CO2 emissions had jumped to 380 ppm. Scientists studying the issue conclude that if nothing is done, the rate of emissions will jump to almost 1,000 ppm in 100 years, leading to significant temperature change.

Many tragedies around the world can be linked to global warming, including abnormal and sometimes violent weather, erosion of coastlines, and submergence of surface elevation by the sea, all causing serious damage to human, animal, and plant life. The COP 3 treaty was the first worldwide attempt to reduce CO2 emissions, setting a goal of a 50% global reduction over a 100-year period, with a reduction goal established for each country. The goal is to reduce CO2 levels cooperatively through worldwide efforts.

Worldwide progress

Mr. Kobayashi anticipates that the United Nations will keep climate change concerns before the nations of the world. In September 2007, a United Nations High-Level Event on Climate Change was held in New York, a proposal of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-moon. Also in September, the United States convened a Major Economies Meeting on Energy Security and Climate Change, held in Washington, D.C., where the participating countries, including the United States, generally agreed that establishing a long-term goal for greenhouse gas reduction is necessary, as is further review regarding mandatory reduction targets for the short- and medium-term future.

The challenges presented by global warming continued to hold worldwide attention, with the awarding of the Nobel prize for peace in October 2007 to the IPCC and Al Gore, former vice president of the United States; the adoption of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) and the ASEAN + 3 and East Asia Summit in November; and COP 13 in December. Worldwide consensus about taking action on climate change is growing.

Japan’s response

Japan’s goal under the Kyoto Protocol is, from 2008 to 2012, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6% from 1990 levels. An interim report, however, indicates that by following its current measures alone, Japan would fall short of the goal by 1.5% to 2.7%. Additional measures will be needed.

Greenhouse-gas reduction measures resulting from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol consist of forest development and restoration, including urban afforestation, for CO2 absorption; technical innovation; and emission reduction credits for countries that participate in the emission reduction programs of other countries. Additional measures intended to make up the shortfall include voluntary measures by chemical, cement, paper, and other industries; by the service sector; and by individual households.

In his presentation to JAA, Mr. Kobayashi noted other quantifiable measures, such as recyclable energy, energy-saving equipment, hybrid cars, increased use of public transportation, and energy-saving houses. Three important elements of energy-saving housing are solar power, heat pumps, and awnings.

A model for the world?

At a cabinet meeting early in 2007, the Japanese government agreed to “Cool Earth 50,” its environmental plan for the nation as well as for the world. Later that year, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda committed to realizing Japan’s Cool Earth 50 goals through the G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit in July 2008.

Keys to the comprehensive plan include a society committed to low carbon emissions, innovative technologies, an environmentally sound material cycle, symbiosis with nature, and sustainability. Mr. Kobayashi emphasized the numerous resources that Japan has to meet the challenge: the wisdom gained from a long tradition of living with nature; experience on the forefront of environment and energy technologies and with overcoming serious public pollution challenges; and many talented people leading environment preservation. By utilizing those resources, he wants to create a “Japan model” to present to the world.

Important aspects of such a model include, at the local level, creating “compact cities” and antiwarming systems; at the state level, introducing regenerable energies, enacting green contract laws, initiating school eco-repair, and providing environmental education; and for businesses, creating an “eco-point system” that rewards environmental activities and environmental finance, which makes investment easier for businesses considering environmentally friendly remodeling; and at the citizen’s level, promoting “eco houses.”

Awnings and the environment

At COP 13, held December 3-14, 2007, in Bali, Indonesia, major greenhouse-gas-emitting countries, including the United States, China and India, agreed on a deal to curb climate change, although the agreement lacks firm targets for reducing emissions. With this recent development, evidence mounts that Japan and other countries in the world are committed to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, making it state policy. In this environment, the awning industry has a great opportunity to promote awnings as a construction material that reduces energy demand and thereby helps to reduce global warming as well.

How can the industry build awareness of awnings and their potential in environmentally friendly construction? First, concrete data about how awnings can contribute to the reduction of CO2 emissions needs to be gathered. According to JAA, by using awnings, the operating ratio of air conditioning is about one third of that needed when using curtains and blinds. (Detailed data from JAA experiments were introduced in the May 2002 issue of the Review.) Those results could be used to calculate CO2 reductions.

By remodeling his own home to make it a sustainable eco house, Mr. Kobayashi is experimenting with ways in which individual households can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He installed awnings on his home and found that when an awning is extended during the daytime, the temperature in the house at night is about 1°C lower. (Details are described in his book, Eco House: My Opinion.) Further scientific research will be necessary to identify valid measurements of CO2 emission reduction.

The awning industry also must work with state and local governments. At the same time, we need to continue to appeal to environmentally oriented architects, design/construction firms and developers to actively propose and design compact cities, making them centers of population that use the latest energy-efficient technologies and promote them around the country and the world.

The Japan Awning Association has established a system to issue certified labels on awnings that satisfy their safety standard. If awning companies and material manufacturers can also work to certify that awnings themselves are made of eco-friendly material, it could make the installation of residential awnings a new standard in building construction.

Ms. Takizawa is a journalist with the Weekly Exterior newspaper, based in Tokyo, Japan.

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