Why there’s no such thing as Big Green

There are many shades of green, and apparently anyone trying to sell you something is trying to convince everyone that their green is the best shade. Green has many definitions and variations, so in an attempt to explain to people what green truly is I typically default to the sustainable mantra of Reduce-Reuse-Recycle. Most buildings constructed before the Industrial Revolution were considered sustainable (if you consider that these buildings produced nearly no pollution and were built from local materials), so green doesn’t have to include shiny hi-tech gizmos.

So this is why I default to the Reduce-Reuse-Recycle concept for explaining green (in order from worse to best):

Recycle – SOMETHING is made from raw materials and energy. SOMETHING is then shipped to stores where people purchase it. SOMETHING is then used, and then shipped to a recycling center where energy is used to turn SOMETHING is turned into SOMETHING ELSE. SOMETHING ELSE is then shipped to stores, and the cycle continues. SOMETHING has the potential to end up in a landfill.

Reuse – SOMETHING is made from raw materials and energy. SOMETHING is then shipped to stores where people purchase it. Then SOMETHING is used, and used, and used some more. SOMETHING has the potential to end up in a landfill.

Reduce – NOTHING is made from raw materials and energy. NOTHING is then shipped to stores where people purchase it. Then NOTHING is used. NOTHING has the potential to end up in a landfill.

So Reduce has the greatest potential of saving the most raw materials and energy. It’s obviously not the sexiest choice when it comes to conveying how green a person or company can be. (Would you believe a company’s ad if they stated “We’re green because of all of the things we didn’t do” – probably not.)

So is there such thing as a green mansion? I guess this questions parallels a question about “green” cars – which is more green, a large hybrid SUV that makes 20 miles per gallon or a compact car with a typical gas engine that makes 32 miles per gallon? There are families of eight that require a large SUV so that they can go places in one vehicle. My math tells me that when this family travels 40 miles they will use 2 gallons of fuel in the large hybrid SUV, and 2.5 gallons of fuel by taking two compact cars.

So green is (or at least should be) based on a per person basis. A 10,000 square foot mansion can be considered green, if there are around sixteen people living in the mansion. (Despite the average American family being 2.5 people and the average American home being 2,400 square feet, I’m using 600 square feet of living space per person. I had a 600 square foot apartment once, and I thought it was the perfect amount of space for me and my stuff, and not too big for me to clean.)

The architect in this article argues that green is dependent of size. I completely disagree with this argument (as well as the notion that you’re a greener person just because you drive a Prius), as well as the architect’s argument that being told your mansion isn’t considered green is somehow a sign of socialism. (If the land the house was built upon and the means of production and distribution of building materials were owned by a single collective then he might have a point, but since they aren’t then he’s coming across like he’s a whiner.)

Green resides in that gray area between what a person needs to live comfortably and what a person requires to show off to other people.

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One thought on “Why there’s no such thing as Big Green

  1. RC

    The green idea is all good. But we need to know these shiny new green ideas are also new liabilities for architects. If clients ( most clients,) are not willing to pay for this scope , should we do it ?

    Reply

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