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KU-led Conference Aims to Create Standard for Sustainable Construction

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A unique union of academics and industry could have a major impact on the future of sustainability in the construction industry — and a faculty member at the University of Kansas School of Engineering is the driving force behind the effort.

Oswald Chong, assistant professor of civil, environmental and architectural engineering, is helping to organize the International Conference on Sustainable Design and Construction, set for March 23-25 in Kansas City, Mo., hosted by KU’s Department of Civil, Environment and Architectural Engineering and managed by KU Continuing Education.

More than 300 people in the construction industry and academia are anticipated to attend the conference. All have an interest in advancing sustainability practices in construction, engineering, architecture and urban planning.

One major goal of the conference, Chong said, is to develop a comprehensive reference guide to set the American Society of Civil Engineering standard for sustainable construction for years to come.

“This type of sustainability and engineering guide is new,” Chong said. “No one has actually tried to set it up until now. This conference will try to do that, and as we go along, we will be able to revise and improve it.”

The three-day conference will feature more than 125 scholarly papers on topics ranging from net zero carbon emissions to passive solar technologies. Industry leaders also will conduct panel discussions. Chong said the plan is then to take the top ideas and turn them into a 25-volume guidebook for use by the architecture, engineering and construction industries.

Chong said that he realizes sustainability and environmentally friendly practices can draw detractors — whether it’s the concept of climate change, or the lack of benefit compared to the costs associated with green construction. This conference aims to tackle those issues in an analytical way, without political undertones.

“That is why we have 25 volumes,” Chong said. “Every single volume will cover one aspect of sustainability. One of those volumes will deal exclusively with justifying social environmental and economic costs of this construction. Whatever research is out there, I intentionally get devil’s advocates, climate-change skeptics and climate-change believers together. They need to talk. I don’t want to make a stand because I believe if they just come together and talk, they’ll be able to resolve it.”

Chong plans to complete the first of the volumes by September and expects completion of the full reference guide to be an evolving process that could take up to a decade. But the effort clearly has KU positioned as a leader in this area of research.

“This conference is going to be big,” Chong said. “KU has really put itself on the map by taking the word ‘sustainability’ seriously. Just by setting up an agenda, people are willing to come to the conference and take this on.”

Chong said the conference will become an annual event, likely moving next year to Washington, D.C., nearer to American Society of Civil Engineering headquarters, to make it easier to draw international participants. He said that it’s a thrill to be a part of the work and wants to make sure the best practices are adopted in drawing up the reference guide.

“At the end of the day, this is science,” he said. “We’ve got to use science to prove our agenda and to make sure that economists will say this is right or this is wrong and we’ll move on from there.”

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