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November 2, 2009

Building Green…The Moral Imperative

by James Bedell

Changed Priorities Ahead (Photo, Flickr)

Photo, Flickr

As one of the founders and leaders of Build2Sustain I am constantly trying to advocate for the business case for green building renovation. I do this for two reasons, the first, because I believe in it. Efficiency is at the heart of good capitalism and we need our built spaces to be more efficient to compete. I also make the argument because, frankly, I think it’s the one people outside of the “green” movement will listen to. It’s hard sometimes to make the argument about stopping climate change; it’s easier to defend someone’s wallet. But I want to make something clear, there is a moral imperative for every building to be a green building. Here’s the bottom line: there are a limited number of resources on this planet and as the population grows we know that we’ll need to be smarter about how we use those resources.

It’s so easy to look at SUVs and make them the target of our environmental ire. It also gives people a simple point of attack. Celebrities drop their Hummers and get Teslas and all the sudden everything is right with the world. I wonder if their home is as efficient as their car? The buildings we live and work in are responsible for half of the green house gas emissions in the world. They are also responsible for roughly the same percentage of our energy usage. We focus intently on transportation because we feel like we can engineer our way to a solution and maybe we can, but our houses, our offices, and our malls are just as much to blame and represent a lot more work.

Our buildings can be healthier places that disturb the natural environment less and actually contribute energy to the grid instead of only pull from it. We can actually remake our building stock into a net positive for the planet if we have the will. Where do we find that will? Imagine a tomorrow where our kids don’t pay electric bills. Where our water supply is constantly recycled. Where our cars are powered by electricity pulled from our homes. A world where we don’t have to worry about air quality because of burning coal to power our offices. Imagine built spaces that make us healthier. That’s the future we can provide for our children, if we only work for it. Don’t we owe that to them?

Yahya E. B. Henry

About Yahya E. B. Henry

Merging his passion for cities, real estate, tech and travel, Yahya is introducing the world to a new model of real estate development that draws from best practices around the globe.

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12 Comments

  • I think that this is a great point. While I personally agree with James that the business case is the way to go, this case is what I believe to be the best means to the “end” of sustainable construction. We have to sell it. If noone listens, then we can't get there in the first place. I don't want B2S to be taken as a cynical attempt to use “green” for marketing only. I see it as the best vehicle toward a sustainable future.

  • Great post. You're right – it's easy to focus on those single points of attack: the SUV, the plastic water bottle, commodity corn. While these are all important issues in their own right, it's the ideals that need to change. Unfortunately people's minds (and ethics) aren't going to change overnight. It'll take many years of effort to shift the universal consciousness, but I think it will happen. I just hope it happens before we've gone too far (depleting all of our resources).

    I think the focus on buildings is excellent. Buildings are an extension of ourselves. We spend more time in our homes, offices, meeting places than outside of them. It's time to start thinking holistically about these spaces in terms of health – for the air we breathe in them and outdoors.

  • I agree Liz that a universal consciousness shift needs to happen – I'd add that some definitions need to be rewritten as well. Moving forward, I believe what it means to be 'successful' will have less to do with how many gadgets you can accumulate (thus consume) and more to do with how much can you save.

    The imperative is definitely there James.

  • I completely agree and echo your sentiment. It will be quite imperative that in making the case we don't get lost in translation. The last thing that any of us want to see is B2S made to be a greenwash exercise.

  • I agree that we need to redefine what success looks like. And I'd just like to add, that while saving is an important part of it, making a positive impact is also equally vital. In other words, framing our lives in terms of what we can give, rather than what we can take (or buy) will not only be more rewarding in the present, it'll leave a richer world for future generations.

  • With the great folks at B2S, I can't see that happening. If we can make the economic case, I believe that this is the first step toward philosophical change.

  • The change needs to be from two directions – demand from the consumer (those who are in the process of renovating a home or business) and knowledge of how to renovate sustainably from the contractor. Educational efforts targeted at these two groups will get the most bang for the buck. I met with a local contractor who renovates homes in my hometown last week and he said that most of his clients want to keep their upfront costs down and forgo the green elements of renovation. Herein lies the problem – he, as a contractor, doesn't understand that some green elements are less expensive than conventional building methods, and some green elements will be less expensive in the long run. He needs to be educated so he can sell it to his clients.

  • I agree completely. Without education from both ends, the process won't work. Unless the economics of it (and any risks) are properly vetted and transmitted to both ends of the equation, sustainable design and building won't sell and won't take hold.

  • Education will play a critical role. I feel the process has started but we have a long way to go. Larger cities have been more successful, I think, in delivering sustainable projects. Apart of the problem is that many smaller locales don't have any prototypes to follow and stick to business as usual. I will be interested in seeing what takes place over the next 2-3 years in the education arena.

  • Christi Elflein November 4, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    The change needs to be from two directions – demand from the consumer (those who are in the process of renovating a home or business) and knowledge of how to renovate sustainably from the contractor. Educational efforts targeted at these two groups will get the most bang for the buck. I met with a local contractor who renovates homes in my hometown last week and he said that most of his clients want to keep their upfront costs down and forgo the green elements of renovation. Herein lies the problem – he, as a contractor, doesn't understand that some green elements are less expensive than conventional building methods, and some green elements will be less expensive in the long run. He needs to be educated so he can sell it to his clients.

  • I agree completely. Without education from both ends, the process won't work. Unless the economics of it (and any risks) are properly vetted and transmitted to both ends of the equation, sustainable design and building won't sell and won't take hold.

  • Education will play a critical role. I feel the process has started but we have a long way to go. Larger cities have been more successful, I think, in delivering sustainable projects. Apart of the problem is that many smaller locales don't have any prototypes to follow and stick to business as usual. I will be interested in seeing what takes place over the next 2-3 years in the education arena.

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