Beware of Shades of Green

FACT: Buildings are the major source of global demand for energy and materials that produce by-product greenhouse gases.

The Green movement in architecture focuses on energy reduction and has made remarkable strides in redirecting our efforts with the built environment. It has become market trend and produced influential green standards, innovative technologies and products. However, we must be aware of 'Shades of Green.' For example,

There are 25 different standards for green building in the U.S., U.K., and Canada. How do we measure green?


While ratings are intended to be quantifiable, the risk remains that they produce 'Shades of Green'. For example, something as simple as square footage limits energy consumption. However, the green movement is product driven, and thus, even an overly sized McMansion can be certified as green if filled with today's latest and greatest green gadgets.

"When considered in terms of total use, a small house built to only moderate energy performance standards uses substantially less energy for heating and cooling than a large house built to very high energy performance standards. Living area per family member has increased by a factor of three since the 1950s and smaller, older homes that have a higher occupant density are now frequently the victims of the tear down trend, even though they are better for the environment than new large homes that require exponentially more construction materials, cover more of the site – causing more storm water runoff – and often use more total energy." - Jean Carroon, FAIA, LEED AP, Principal for Preservation, Goody Clancy

Preoccupation with technologies, products & material substitution is not only unrealistic, but it also tends to be prohibitvely expensive. There are economic implications with these standards; If points cost money to implement, then green homes cost more, excluding low -middle income homeowners.

"Sustainability offers design the biggest problem of all: how to create more stuff without the impact of creating more stuff." - Sam Grawe, Dwell Magazine

Today, 'green' tends to become a marketing tool, when in reality it should be more practical.

Vernacular Building Traditions

While 'green' principles may be modern in articulation, they have been practiced for centuries. Before modern heating and cooling, people made use of passive mode energy, local materials, and practical design solutions to improve the comfort of architecture.

'the greenest building is one already built.'

It is important to keep in mind that we cannot simply bulldoze and build anew 'green.' NEW construction, no matter how 'green', requires tremendous outlays of energy. There is simply no way we can consume ourselves out of global warming – consumption is what got us here. In embracing the green movement, we cannot afford to avoid our current building stock.