Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Green Buildings

Monday on All Things Considered, Michele Norris reported on Beijing’s ambitious plan for every new building to be 50% more efficient and environmentally friendly by 2010. It’s great to see the Chinese government thinking about the environment since there are plenty of counter-examples and issues, and since China has so much construction going on it’s a reasonable thing to focus on. However, I still wish the focus wasn’t on green products but conservation.

In the Seattle Times this weekend there was an article about going green, and it started with a great question – how many green products does it take to reduce your ecological footprint? The answer? As few as possible. Green products are great, but buying more to save the planet is going about it backwards. I’m totally guilty of this – between the two of us, J and I probably have 15 heavy-duty plastic water bottles so we can avoid using disposable water bottles. Do we really need so many? Same with fancy new buildings – I get that people need places to live and work, and if we have to build them we should certainly do so in as environmentally friendly a way as possible, but wouldn’t it be better to figure out how to need less stuff in the first place?

I also read – I think in Seattle Magazine - that the various certification programs, particularly the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System™, can encourage some unfortunate behavior by developers trying to tack on just enough features to reach a specific certification level while not actually thinking holistically about the best way to design a building (how to situate it on a site, where to source the materials, etc). I think LEED is a great start – it’s hard to improve something you can’t measure – but I just worry that the Chinese government will focus on this one element and then rest on their laurels regarding the rest of the environmental issues.

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