Sustainable development is about more than just the materials and systems used in the production of homes. To develop sustainably requires us to rethink the way we build and the way we live. Current habits of consumption and excess need to be addressed in the design and planning of sustainable projects. Simply adding green elements to our traditional methodologies will not lead us to a more sustainable future.
Unfortunately, “green” has become a marketing term, often divorced from the sustainable ideals from which it was conceived. “Green” homes are popping up sporting three car garages and 5 bathrooms. “Green” communities are being created dozens of miles from the nearest public transportation. Some bamboo floors and a few Energy Star appliances are converting 6,000 square foot behemoths into “green” places to live.
Now, I am in full support of using sustainable materials and techniques in even the least sustainable applications. I believe that every little bit helps and understand that I’m not going to be able to convince everyone to live in smaller, more responsible spaces. But, I wonder if this use of “green” is damaging the movement toward sustainable development. I mean, if I can be “green” and have 14 extra rooms, why would I make a change?
Much of the current use of green is simply putting a necktie on a donkey (“lipstick on a pig” is a bit overused right now), and this leads us to the second dangerous effect “green” is having on sustainable development. To carry on my ill-conceived metaphor, the donkey doesn’t change in price just because we have decided to dress it up, but we do have to pay for the necktie and the labor associated with affixing it to the stubborn animal. In building terms, this means that our “green” houses end up costing a premium. They are simply the same old houses, built in the same old ways with green features added on. “Green” is thus automatically more expensive.
Ask the average home buyer if they would like a “green” house. The majority of them will say yes but they can’t afford it, and sadly, they are right. “Green” is a premium upgrade. It is, by the evolving popular definition, a high-end add-on. Contractor’s automatically tack on a percentage to build “green”, and banks assume a “green” project will over-spend. Generalizations? Perhaps, but we have found them true more often than not.
Sustainable building is an effort to change building methodology. It is not necessarily more expensive or harder or more time consuming. It is, in the end, simply a better way to build. However, it does take work and risk to get there, and as long as “green” is easy and popular, it will be difficult to build a significant movement around it.
What do you think? Is “green” (as the marketing term it has become) having a negative effect on an effort to move toward sustainable development? If so, what can be done? How do third-party verified certifications (like LEED) come into play?
Tell me what you think in the comments.
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