My uncle and aunt are planning a building project, and asked me for thoughts on making it “as Green as possible.”
As I tried to take them through the long (boring) list of the various ways a building might, or might not, be “Green,” I was reminded that the ideal which I was using to make suggestions was not just “Green,” but “Sustainable.” And in retrospect I thought this might have been a useful way to start our conversation:
“A building is a complex undertaking, with many choices to evaluate. Those choices have multifaceted and counterbalancing environmental impacts. When weighing choices a useful guide to keep in mind – an ideal to work towards - is “Sustainable”…
I would offer that “Sustainable”, in contrast to “Green”, is an idea about your relationship to the world around. “Green” is of course a color, a characteristic that has come to represent anything environmentally preferable. Alternatively, “Sustainable” is a (more or less) measurable state that provides a goal with an endpoint. As a goal, “Green” is not so helpful. How green is green enough? “Sustainable” is the point of being “Green.”
I cannot say exactly where “Green” becomes “Sustainable”. But I am comfortable that some things require no more than common-sense thinking to know as true: that a building which is heated through its windows by sunlight uses less energy than the most high-tech boiler. That a building–mounted solar panel save the “line loss” of electricity transported from a distant solar farm, but a building lit by daylight saves the impact of the panel’s manufacture as well. That traveling to your building on public transportation saves much of the energy used to drive there. That oil and marble are finite resources, plastic is forever a man-made introduction to the biosphere, wood will decompose and steel can be recycled…
And on. The list becomes boring again. My intent is not to make a catalogue, only to point out that this viewpoint begins to suggest choices. Even if what it takes to get to “Sustainable” is not fully known, or even know-able, the choices which are closer to that goal are easy to see. I find it to be a useful way to think about “Green” building.