Thursday, September 22, 2011

Eco Fads

As an architect, I have been lectured, hectored, and brow-beaten for the last decade about "green" buildings. The alleged solutions to "unsustainable" construction practices are myriad. Low-flow toilets, zero-flow urinals, R-30 or higher insulation requirements, moisture barriers, air barriers, air infiltration pressure testing, recycled material content, sustainable forestry practices, occupancy sensors, LED lighting, proximity to mass transit, showers and lockers for bikers, brown water recovery, material transportation distances. LEED Silver, Gold, and Platinum. The list of sustainable considerations is endless, and growing. Never mind that nobody ever demonstrated that traditional building practices are in any way unsustainable (whatever that truly means). The sustainable "green" building fad served as the crowbar by which the environmental movement inserted itself into the construction industry. I have often called the U.S. Green Building Council a make-work program for aging hippies. It is the club used by people who know nothing about construction to tell those of us that do know how we should really do our jobs.

Imagine my delight to find this story, highlighting a new book, Eco-Fads: How the Rise of Trendy Environmentalism is Harming the Environment. An excerpt:
One of the defining characteristics of an eco-fad is that it is sold or pushed not based on what it does for the environment but about what it says about those following the fad: Do others share my concern? Do they praise me for my environmental concern? Does it make me feel good about myself? One eco-fad he dismantles is the green building craze. He shows in multiple instances that green buildings, contrary to the claims of promoters and the expectations of politicians and the general public, often don’t save energy, nor do they improve worker/student health or performance. At one speaking engagement, when Myers presented data outlining the large amount of energy used by supposedly “green” buildings an audience member interrupted Myers presentation; pounding his fist on the table he announced that what Myers was saying was “Immoral!” When the audience member was asked if it was moral to promote policies that don’t save energy, he said “I’m not going to address that.” That, of course, was the very point at issue — but for that fad-follower, questioning the value of green buildings was tantamount to questioning his values.
I doubt the green building fad will go away in my lifetime, but it's nice to know someone else has noticed the nonsense we are foisting upon ourselves.


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