20 May 2010

What’s This GREEN Stuff?

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I’m an architect and I’m green! Well, I think I’m green or at the very least I like what some people in the construction industry call “green behavior”. By “green behavior” I don’t mean new or inexperienced. I mean earth-friendly, but I didn’t always think this way.┬áIt was my perception of the biggest problem in the industrial world that inspired my environmental awareness. Like many people who have nothing better to do, I think about nothing and a wandering mind dangerously analyzes problems — at least mine does. Anyway, my perception of the industrial world’s biggest problem is a theory called — the generation gap. Some behavioral historian (this is casual writing no credible references available) defines the generation gap as “the time it takes from the moment we realize we have a problem to do something about it”. And I think it’s this perception that the world has an environmental dilemma that drives this green stuff.

But what is all this green stuff? Take an informal survey of people you know in any industry and ask them to identify a green product, opine on green building or brainstorm a green lifestyle choice. I bet every one can share a legitimate thought on all three topics. But why is that? It’s probably because this green stuff permeates our lives and business. It’s not simply a fad, it is a green movement and it’s gaining momentum. Despite the fact, I’ve been thinking green for 20 years, I only started doing something about it three years ago…but why?

It was no one thing that piqued my interest, it was the realization that people do not hire me (an architect) because they love my beautiful drawings. I wish they did, but clients don’t buy my drawings and hang them on their wall (although they are gorgeous and worthy) and they don’t invite friends to rave about my drawings (but they should). Clients hire me because they want to construct a building!

Building architecture is a spectacular creation, but before we create something, we destroy something else. I call this phenomenon the destruction b4 construction dilemma. And it was this fact that inspired me to care enough to do something about my craft’s affect on the environment. Is the green building craze the answer?

I don’t know if green building is the solution, but I know I’m a simple man so I started with the self-proclaimed green building gospels (USGBC LEED, NAHB Green, ANSI National Green Standard) to study this contagious behavior. While each organization has their twist, their mission is challenging us to resuscitate the environment — give it CPR or what I call conserve, preserve, reserve. They call us to conserve resources, preserve natural habitats so we can reserve these precious mineral and land resources for future generations. They call upon us to do something very difficult for people — to be truly selfless and save something for strangers without asking for a reward or payback in our lifetime. That’s right, sacrifice now so someone else can have it after you’re gone. It’s quite spiritual and it’s a grand notion, but where do I fit in?

I often wonder where I fit in so I unearthed the green gospels again and recognized each of them (in their own words) uses similar metrics to grade themselves and other practicing greeners. These goals are:

  • site lot design
  • resource efficiency
  • utility efficiency
  • air quality
  • ops/maintenance

Since I’m an architect (and some people consider that a liability) I simplify these goals into concepts so I can learn where I fit in the green movement. I interpret these goals as:

  • site lot design = footprint
  • resource efficiency = location
  • utility efficiency = diet
  • air quality = freshness
  • ops/maintenance = fitness

Footprint is the way I minimize site destruction or minimize the developed area and create a building that lives with nature rather than displaces it.

Location is the real estate mantra — location, location, location and refers to how close utilities, material, labor and hardscape is to the building. I locate the home close to utilities and approach and if owner’s select me to hire a builder, I can suggest builders, installers and suppliers in the local area. This achieves two objectives – reduces travel resources and stimulates the local economy by using local trades. When the location between these respective elements is small, the project is inherently greener.

Diet is how much a home eats. I can reduce the home’s consumption via siting to take advantage of wind, water and sun. I can also design a smarter building envelope (walls, roof, fenestration) and select products that are easier to manufacture and perform better.

Freshness is how healthy the home is for occupants. I influence the indoor environment through prudent ventilation and HVAC design, strategically-placed operable windows, low-VOC finishes and hypo-allergenic products to maintain resident comfort and health.

Fitness is how long the home lasts and affordable long-term maintenance. I influence home fitness with proven construction detailing and prudent product selection so people enjoy living in the home rather than repairing it.

It’s nice I learned to talk the talk, but can I walk the walk? How do I contribute to green living? I adopt a green way of life at home and in my business!

At home, I became a:

  • recycle disciple — ultra conscientious about what we buy, how much we dispose and what we can recycle.
  • energy evangelist — monitor our electricity usage, use natural daylighting and discover ways to conserve more.
  • water savior — i don’t capture rainwater or recycle graywater (yet), but we don’t irrigate. We choose low-maintenance drought tolerant plants and make them live up to their reputation or become compost.

At work, I make decisions based on how they mutually benefit people, planet, profit!

  • I’m mindful of the products I buy and generate to promote local business, make them as usable and earth-friendly as possible.
  • I monitor my practices to eliminate or properly recycle or dispose paper, inks, batteries and reduce travel costs.
  • I carefully choose my business partners to complement my brand and walk the green walk.
  • I volunteered to create the local green-building certification plan because I choose to be green and want to define green according to my principles rather than government-imposed principles.

So what is all this green stuff? Green stuff is a chosen way-of-life to sustain life. The design and construction industry has an immense impact on mineral resources and the natural environment. Earth-friendly design and building practices contribute to future generations of green people. I’m doing my part and learning more everyday. You can make the same choice. Come along, let’s embrace, practice and enjoy this green stuff!


About the Author

Your Architect is Eric Faulkner -- an architect licensed in Texas & Oklahoma with 32 years experience in design, construction observation and life.