This week’s Guest Post Friday at Musings is a real treat. Sara Sweeney is a registered architect, LEED AP and GreenFaith Fellow in religious environmental leadership. Her 18-year architectural career reflects her passion and commitment to sustainable building design and stewardship of our natural environment. She is the founder of EcoVision LLC, a solutions-based research and consulting firm, grounded in sustainable design practices, environmental stewardship, and building science. Sara returns for her second Guest Post Friday appearance and we’re glad to have her back.
Depending on whom you ask and what the latest headlines are, sustainable, by definition is not universal. Looking up a definition for the word, I viewed at least 10 sub-definitions; no wonder there is some confusion as to what it is and what it is not. The built environment is flawed in this instance. Pressure is on developers and general contractors to deliver a ‘green’ project and to help curb our carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Therefore, anything is being done in the guise of “sustainability.” This model is not sustainable.
I agree with Yahya. I am also growing increasingly concerned that in our quest for sustainability, we are losing the forest of the definition through the trees. If we collectively don’t know what sustainability means, then that in and of itself could make it unsustainable, especially if we have polar opposite definitions of what it means.
Take coal as an example. Many feel that coal generated power is unsustainable. Mining coal can cause massive environmental destruction, and burning it emits toxins into the air, from CO2 to mercury, and is accused of being the primary cause of a changing climate, to name a few reasons. To others, such as those who work in coal rich areas, coal represents sustainability. Sustainability of their lives, of their families lives. Upper management and corporate heads of the coal industry aside, to a miner, or anyone that works in the dredges of the coal industry, the loss of the industry is potentially a threat to their sustainability. Yes, there may be “Green Jobs” available, and yes, perhaps these jobs offer a healthier work environment than what a mine offers. But unless the jobs are a lateral or advanced move career wise, and not a demotion per-say, I can understand the potential reluctance.
The same potential exists in the building industry. Again, we have the potential for polar opposite definitions of what sustainable means. To a sustainably minded architect, a LEED Platinum building may be considered sustainable, the focus being on environmental stewardship. To an Owner, a building which does not have increased first costs, comes in on budget and saves money in long-term operating costs may be considered sustainable, the focus being on fiscal responsibility.
These are both extreme examples, but presented to make the point that there are many sides to the definition of just what sustainable means. And in my mind, the Build 2 Sustain project is taking on the challenge of defining sustainable from these many –perhaps all, vantage points, at least with respect to buildings. It seeks to understand all related points of view so as to arrive at some conclusion and/or common ground, something which must be done and which I do not feel has been done yet to date. In addition, through real-life case studies which will be documented and recorded as they happen, Build2 Sustain will present a level of transparency yet unseen, versus merely relying on collected data and studies recycled into yet another report or an after the fact case study PDF download, to make the case for sustainability. In effect, it will be a sort of Renovation Realities on a grander scale.
We who advocate each day for a sustainable and responsible built environment need this project. We also need to be humbled a bit. As I’ve said before, building sustainably is not easy. It is a different way to approach designing and building. And frankly, it does cost more, especially if the integrated design model is not followed and instituted at the very beginning (and just because one uses LEED does not necessarily mean this model is being followed/instituted either). To constantly state otherwise is irresponsible. I am privileged to be a part of the Build 2 Sustain project and an advisory board member and look forward to embarking on the project and trust the outcome will be of great benefit to us all.
UPDATE: For more of Sara’s great thoughts on this topic, check out her post at the Build2Sustain blog.
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