Friday, October 8, 2010

Flashback Friday: "Green" is the New "Standard"?

Originally posted October 12, 2009

A few weeks ago, we presented at the Northwest Ecobuilding Guild's 2009 annual green building slam. There was a good turn out and great projects were presented. But I had to wonder: is this just a self-congratulatory meeting of like minds? Or can we hope that it is something more?

We spend a lot of time touting our green projects. This is not without good reason, as they are "green", compared to standard building practices. But this "standard" has only been around a short time. There was a time, not too long ago, when buildings were naturally cooled, did not depend on fossil fuels for heating, no chemicals were used anywhere and all materials were local. I am not proposing that we go back to the 19th century and I do not mean to negate all of the progress we have made in life safety, sanitation and building technology. I am very thankful for my fire detector, elevator and dishwasher. But looking back at a longer, broader view of history, we are just trying to play catch up.

It may just be a matter of semantics. For instance, all food was "organic" a handful of decades ago. Now, somehow, chemical treatment is "conventional" agriculture, and agriculture as it has been practiced for generations, without chemicals, is relegated to the margins.

So, "standard" building techniques are just what we have ended up with through specialization, standardization and chemical inputs. My point is that, as individual designers and builders, it's OK to be a little bit proud of our green accomplishments, when viewed in the context of the relative price of materials and the convention of standard building practices. But in a larger context, we are just trying to fix the mistakes that we (the building profession, industry, society, etc) have made.

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