Industry and Infrastructure
Industry and infrastructure in the United States affect environmental quality of life. Industry and businesses in a community create and distribute the goods and services that people use. Infrastructure in a community refers to:
- The transportation network: roads, bridges, railroads, airports
- Utilities systems: water, sewer, power, and telecommunication
- Buildings: homes, schools, businesses, factories, government buildings
This section of the Calvert-Henderson Environment Model looks at how industry and infrastructure contribute to the environmental quality of life in communities.
Industry and Business as Good Citizens
Many companies understand that being a good citizen means they must pay attention to the environmental effect they have on communities. This includes the communities where their factories are located, the communities where the raw materials or parts for their products originate, and the communities in which their products are used and ultimately disposed of.
A growing number of companies-especially multinational companies-are developing this awareness, particularly in the area of climate change.1 This increasing understanding is also translated into action and companies are including information on what they are doing in annual Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Reports. The reporting companies span the entire range of industries, from manufacturing and agribusiness to health care and insurance. The environmental issues being reported extend from ‘cradle to grave’ in the production of goods and services: from environmental impacts in resource extraction to the final disposing of wastes and used products. Carbon emissions and corporate efforts to reduce their impact on global climate change are highlighted in many reports. Many of the reports also cover a company’s social impact. An online registry of many companies reports is available at www.corporate-register.com. More information about corporate reporting efforts can be found in the section on other Environmental Indicator efforts.
Infrastructure and Land Development
Traditionally, community development has meant converting undeveloped land, sometimes called “greenfields” to developed land, covering the ground with roads, buildings, and other infrastructure. Unchecked, development can be a problem since the natural areas provide valuable services: they filter rainwater, provide animal habitats, and provide land for growing the renewable resources we need for economic and social activities.
Natural areas also are an important component of environmental quality of life because they are used for recreation and aesthetic purposes. We discuss the amount of land being converted from natural areas to “built” environments in the Natural Resources section of the Environment Indicator.
A more direct measure of infrastructure is the extent to which the built area is used by people in their daily lives. The graph below shows one example of this use and how it is changing: the miles we drive has increased 37% from 1990 to 2005.2
When communities are spread out across greater distances, residents must use their cars to shop, work, play, and generally move about. More vehicle miles traveled leads to several environmental problems: increased air emissions with a corresponding decrease in air quality; increased runoff from roads into our waterways; and increased greenhouse gases being pumped into the environment.
There is good news, though. More and more states and local communities are paying attention to this problem. Smart Growth and Green Infrastructure are two methods that communities are using to curb sprawling development. Smart growth means development focuses on “walkable” communities with mixed uses, a sense of place, and town centers. Green infrastructure creates connections between protected land and water areas. It means maintaining natural ecological processes and improving natural resources in the community-rivers, lakes and streams, forests, wetlands, parks, and other natural areas. Because smart growth and green infrastructure are relatively new concepts, there are currently no well accepted, comprehensive measures of their results and success. See our section on other Environmental Indicators efforts for more information on smart growth and green infrastructure.
Buildings Contribute to Quality of Life
The buildings in which people live, work, and play are part of a community’s infrastructure. According to the EPA’s Green Building program, buildings in the US account for 39% of our total energy use, 68% of our total electricity consumption, and 38% of CO2 emissions.
The EPA also estimates that most people spend 90% of their time indoors, making them especially susceptible to indoor air pollution. Asthma and cancer have been linked with indoor air contaminants. In addition, construction of the homes, offices, schools, and commercial buildings generates an estimated 136 million tons of waste each year.3 As you can see, buildings are a significant factor in the environmental quality of life in a community.
The good news is that there is a growing industry devoted to making buildings more energy efficient and less toxic while generating less waste in the process. Many builders, architects, and building owners are developing buildings that conform to the LEEDS(tm) standard. LEEDS stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is a standard that defines better ways to design, construct, and operate buildings to be more environmentally friendly. One measure of the initial success of green building practices is that membership in the
Although there is still a long way to go, this section has shown how businesses and industry are taking steps to improve the effect our economy and society have on a community’s environmental quality of life. The next section looks at the influence of Consumer Products and Services.
- Cogan, Dougals G. 2006. Corporate Governance and Climate Change: Making the Connection. Boston, Mass.: Ceres. Available at http://www.ceres.org/pub.
- US Office of the President. 2006. White House Economic Statistics Briefing Room Transportation November 2006. Available at http://www.bts.gov/publications/white_house_economic_statistics_briefing_room/november_2006/index.html .
- US EPA Green Building Workgroup. 2004. Buildings and the Environment: A Statistical Summary. Washington, DC: US EPA. Available at http://www.epa.gov/opptintr/greenbuilding/pubs/whybuild.htm.
- Smith, April. 2003. Building Momentum: National Trends and Prospects for High Performance Green Buildings. Washington, DC: US Green Building Council.