Bay Area Architects do you know what TRACI is

We were at a presentation a few months ago where the presenter was eloquently describing the irreversible effects of climate change on the glaciers and some folks in the audience turned the conversation into a political discussion calling the impact “cyclical” with no “proof” of a direct connection to human activities. It is quite tragic that there is a huge disconnect among large population groups about this subject and they tend to make it political instead of human.

This isn’t a new debate, Svante Arrhenius suggested over a hundred years ago,  that people are causing the increase in the amount of greenhouse gases by burning  coal, causing the atmosphere to warm more than it would through “normal” natural processes. Climate scientists are surer than ever that human activity is causing global warming, according to a U.N. report. Scientific consensus holds a 95 percent probability, that human activities are the main cause of global warming, primarily the burning of fossil fuels. Human usage of gasoline, coal and natural gas to make electricity and drive cars, releases considerable carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. EPA has a great interactive map that shows how much emissions are being released in your area or right here in the bay area, by power plants,  this map serves as a great tool for bay area architects to educate their clients about potential environmental impact of their buildings. 

After we all agree about the probable cause, the problem of predicting the impact remains, specifically, in some regions.

EPA has developed TRACI, the Tool for the Reduction and Assessment of Chemical and other environmental Impacts as a practical tool to effectively describe the impact of human activities in the US, especially, in the following categories:

  • Ozone Depletion
  • global warming
  • acidification
  • eutrophication
  • smog formation
  • ecotoxicity
  • human particulate effects
  • human carcinogenic &  non-carcinogenic effects
  • fossil fuel depletion
  • land use effects

The cause factors such as Land Use, Chemical Emissions, Water Usage & Fossil Fuel usage is compared against the categories above to derive at a “characterization” of effect such as cancer. In line with EPA’s focus, human health is more centered on after effects of particulates and outside air pollutants and not Indoor Air Quality.

Most studies focus on energy consumption and often  the source and transmission of energy is overlooked. As an example, the potential effects from coal extraction, transport, and combustion is expected to have very different effects from energy consumption resulting from the manufacture and operation of a solar cell, fuel cell, or nuclear source. In reality, society seems most concerned about the potential impacts of depletion (e.g., fossil fuels) and chemical emissions that result from extraction, transportation, and combustion – aiche 2002 paper

TRACI is however, consistent with existing environmental regulations and was developed to be used within LCA, sustainability metrics.  A corporation can use TRACI to set environmental sustainability goals, by estimating the emissions of potential contributors in each of the categories listed above and determine which contributing factor is significant and set goals for future reduction. TRACI is used by USGBC as a bench marking tool to develop LEED credits and can prove to be very useful to other entities too.