Green Priorities - Skin Deep Not Deep Enough
Like the rest of us, the design community, has a difficult time balancing green priorities. More artists than technicians, designers gravitate towards what could be termed "aesthetic green" rather than "technical green".
When it comes to green building; recycled carpets, natural materials and natural finishes are usually front and centre. Recycling old carpet into new carpet is an example of "cradle to cradle" that is the essence of sustainability. Natural materials have the possibility of being renewable in ways man made materials can't. Natural finishes beat their solvent rich cousins every time.
But at the end of the day, green priorities need to be more than skin deep. We are responsible for a myriad of environmental impacts; all worthy of attention. However, of these, excessive energy use is the largest of all of man's environmental impacts. That's because carbon based fuels are the single largest contributor to climate change - by far our most pressing environmental issue.
The United States Green Building Council recognizes this along with the design community's aversion to the technicality of low energy design. Recently it revised LEED NC to make 2 of the 10 energy points mandatory. Previously it'd been possible to build a LEED building without garnering any energy points at all. Of the first 420 LEED NC version 2 certified buildings, 12% didn't claim any of the 10 energy points, including, incredibly, 1 Gold building.
Here in Canada, Canadian Green Building Council's LEED NC has always had an energy prerequisite of 25% better than code - roughly the same as LEED's first energy point.
When it comes to reporting on green issues in the built environment there are few more authoritative than Environmental Building News. It weighed in on the green priorities question in their landmark article "Establishing Priorities with Green Building". In it they noted; "Ongoing energy use is probably the largest environmental impact of a building, so designing and constructing buildings for low energy use should be our number one priority"
Recognize too that energy use is related to the myriad of other environmental issues besides climate change. Although embodied energy is nearly always a secondary concern (see EMBODIED ENERGY column), it does reflect resource and hence habitat depletion. Buildings with lower embodied energy, consume fewer resources, deplete fewer habitats, and contribute less pollution.
So when it comes to green priorities, highly visible "aesthetic green" priorities are not as important as less visible "technical green" priorities. Skin deep green is not deep enough. Green Building's most important gains are those that reduce energy use.
- Frame In? Frame Out?
- All Low e’s Are Not Created Equal
- Double Hung Inherently Flawed
- The Road Less Travelled
- The Affordable Energy Efficient House
- Green Priorities - Skin Deep Not Deep Enough
- Embodied Energy - As Important As Low Energy Design?
- Energy-Star's Solar Eclipse Ending?
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