Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a series on abundance
created and curated by Edward McGraw, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, founding partner and
chief executive officer of Ashley McGraw
previous features by McGraw, Plaut, Fedrizzi, and
Angarano at the end of this column.
With a focus on
research, learning, and discovery, institutions of higher education are amazing
catalysts for creating abundance. One prominent example of this is Binghamton
University-SUNY, a public college in Upstate New York.
President Dr. Harvey Stenger recently sat down with Ed McGraw, founder of
Ashley McGraw Architects, for a conversation about sustainability, climate
change, and the university’s Nobel Prize.
Ed McGraw: First, congratulations to Binghamton University’s Distinguished Professor M. Stanley Whittingham for receiving the
Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Dr. Harvey Stenger: Thank you,
Ed. We’re just back from Stockholm and are so proud of Professor Whittingham
and his work with lithium-ion batteries. Our world-class laboratory to design
and test these batteries is one way we demonstrate our leadership in
sustainability through research.
EM: We’re living in a time of monumental
and rapid change to our environment and climate. What are the biggest
opportunities for university presidents to fight climate change?
HS: Funding for hiring faculty in
research areas is probably the single biggest place a president can make an
impact. He or she can also make sure that building projects meet ambitious
On a more global level: We have the solutions to climate
change and they can be implemented right now. Simply put, these solutions will
require as much energy as possible in the form of electrical energy generated
with the least amount of CO2. However, the costs are enormous (Morgan Stanley
estimates that it will take about $50 trillion dollars of capital, or about 75%
of the world’s annual GDP, to suspend and reverse global warming). Also, people
don’t seem to take the threats to life as seriously as they did with, for
example, the hole in the ozone 30 years ago.
Back then, when lives were at immediate risk from toxic
pollutants from coal power plants, auto emissions, fluoro-chlorocarbons, and
other culprits, we implemented solutions that addressed and reversed the
problems. We knew the solutions: filter gas emissions from power plants;
substitute refrigerants that would not decompose ozone; strip mercury and
sulfur dioxide from gas emissions; put catalytic converters on cars; find
alternatives for coatings containing lead; develop new methods of agriculture
that are organic and don’t require heavy doses of pesticides and herbicides;
and require chemical emissions to be reported, tracked, and penalized. These
all made costs of products and services rise in the short term until new
technologies were optimized, and all of them required legislative action,
rules, and laws. The Montreal Protocol, where nearly all nations agreed to
phase out the use of certain refrigerants, required an international agreement.
I am convinced we can and will do the same for climate
change. But first, the major players – China, the U.S., and, India – need to acknowledge that lives are in imminent danger. The solution is neither
impossible nor complicated. It will require international agreement, decades of
infrastructure replacements, and a ton of money. Having said all of that, I
predict that by 2050, we will have stabilized and reversed significantly the
concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere. I am an optimist!
EM: Binghamton University and Ashley
McGraw are creating a Living Building – one of only around 15 such buildings in
the world – at the university’s Nuthatch Hollow nature preserve. What motivated
you to take on such a big challenge?
HS: The challenge was irresistible! I
visited a Living Building in western Massachusetts and knew we could do this
and do it better than others. Ever since I met Amory Lovins of the Rocky
Mountain Institute, kind of the father of sustainable architecture, I have
always wanted to do a project like this. So, I found a source of funding and
put together a great team. I also knew it would be important that I stand back
and let the team have ownership of the project. It is the first Living Building built by a public university, using public funds, which creates challenges.
But it’s been gratifying to watch the team – which includes Ashley McGraw
Architects and many Binghamton students – navigate any hurdles they encounter.
We’ve even incorporated aspects of Nuthatch Hollow into our curriculum and it’s
very popular with students.
EM: Sustainability is a major focus for Binghamton. What are some of the most effective initiatives you’ve implemented?
HS: The creation of our transdisciplinary
area of excellence of Smart Energy; managing the state’s annual competition on
Clean Energy startups; supporting our lithium battery program; and making sure
all our building projects exceed expectations with respect to sustainability.
EM: Binghamton researchers are developing
innovative solutions to address climate change. Please tell me about some of
the research you’re most excited about.
HS: Energy storage will be an important
component of how we balance renewable energy supply with peak energy demand, as
will the intelligence of the electric grid. The supply of renewable energy
(wind and solar) does not always align with demand. A variety of research
projects in our engineering departments are addressing this problem, and making
progress in storing excess energy when supply is greater than demand, and
delivering that stored energy when the demand is greater than the supply (a
process called "levelizing").
EM: Knowing your background –
particularly your research on detoxifying chemical solvents that contaminate
our soils and water supplies – I’d like to learn more about you and your
thoughts about abundance. What first sparked your interest in sustainability?
HS: In the 1970s – before people were
even thinking about sustainability – my father became a consultant focused on
energy conservation. He hired me as a subcontractor when I was in college, and
I fell in love with the work. A tipping point for me occurred when President
Carter created the U.S. Synthetic Fuels Corporation in 1980, just as I was graduating
from college and starting my doctoral work at MIT. Unfortunately, it never took
off because oil prices dropped quickly in the years following its formation.
However, it did make me believe that sustainability was extremely important for
our environment and national security, which meant research in this area could
not only save people’s lives and our planet but it could also help protect our
EM: Why did you choose to study chemical
HS: Prior to consulting, my father was a
mechanical engineer in Syracuse, New York, and he encouraged me to be an
engineer. In high school I worked for a civil engineering company that designed
water and waste water systems. I thought I would go into civil engineering to
be connected to environmental topics, but a professor encouraged me to think
about chemical engineering, as it would have a closer connection to the
environmental problems of the future. He was certainly correct!
AIA, LEED AP BD+C, is founding partner and
chief executive officer of Syracuse-based Ashley
McGraw Architects. He is a nationally
recognized authority on sustainability and high-performance buildings, and
speaks frequently on the subject. Among the organizations he has addressed are
the American Institute of Architects National Convention, Northeast Sustainable
Energy Association, New York State Green Building Conference, Council of School
Superintendents and School Boards Association, and the Eastern Region of the
Association of Physical Plant Administrators. He holds a Master of Architecture
degree from Syracuse University and a bachelor’s degree in business from SUNY
#5: Small City Rejuvenation and Architectural Abundance
Schools are more than conduits of
knowledge - education is critical to both social and economic stability.
Through regenerative design, architects can rethink of how learning is
delivered that emphasizes its importance to small cities and rural areas.
By Edward McGraw, AIA, LEED AP BD+C
Abundance #4: Abundance from Regeneration - Our Opportunity as Designers
that are driven by an understanding of place, community, and full
intentionality can achieve abundance.
By Susanne Angarano, ASID, CID, NCIDQ
Abundance #3: Abundance in Architecture Starts with Abundance in Human Health
Just as buildings became
an incredible tool in the movement for environmental sustainability, they can
and must become our greatest asset when it comes to human sustainability.
By Rick Fedrizzi
Abundance #2: Three Keys to Abundant Design
Designing for less bad won't get us there. Aiming for abundant design requires
seeing and working in new ways that are largely unfamiliar, challenging - but
oh so worth it!
By Josie Plaut, Colorado State University Institute
for the Built Environment & CLEAR (Center for Living Environments and Regeneration)
Creating abundance is
more than sustainability or resilience, and should be a driving force in
By Edward McGraw, AIA, LEED AP BD+C